Will Schwalbe has a question he asks everyone he meets: What book are you reading? He calls it “the best question imaginable.”
The New York Times best-selling author of “The End of Your Life Book Club,” which chronicled his conversations around books with his mother as she was dying of cancer, is now out with a new book of essays, called “Books for Living,” which explores the magical power of books. Last week, Schwalbe sat down with arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown to talk about how books help us make sense of our lives.
“Especially now, because we live in very confusing, complicated times,” Schwalbe said. “There’s something about books that really help us reset ourselves, and help us figure out what’s important.” Books, he said, also help us to better listen and be more empathetic.
In “Books for Living,” Schwalbe wrote about 26 books that were meaningful to him, that he said “found me when I really needed them.”
The books range widely, from children’s books like “Stuart Little” to suspense thrillers such as “Girl on a Train” to a 1938 book by a Chinese scholar about the art of leaving things undone, called “The Importance of Living.”
Schwalbe says is also fascinated by how people find the books that become meaningful to them. He discovered the novel “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin, after a school librarian left it on a cart. The novel, which explores homosexuality and bisexuality among a group of men in Paris, “showed me a kind of life that I didn’t think was possible,” he said.
“Really any book can be the right book for you as long as it speaks to you and helps you figure something out,” Schwalbe said.
What book has been most meaningful to you? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using #myfavebook.