On Our Bookshelves – Books for Living – A Review


BOOK: Books for Living

AUTHOR: Will Schwalbe



This is a book for those who love books. It’s about books—why we read, how we read, how books speak to us, what they teach us, how they touch us. If you, like me, enjoy the great conversation of books, about books, between books, between readers and authors, between critics and authors, between writers of different genres, between readers in book clubs, readers in airport lounges, readers on the train…if you’ve ever interrupted a stranger to ask about what they’re reading, if you’ve ever been glad to have been interrupted by someone curious about your book…this is just the kind of thing you’ll enjoy.


It’s a bit of a truism that no one is so foolish that he or she can’t teach you something. As a corollary, Will Schwalbe believes, along with Pliny the Younger and Miguel de Cervantes, that there’s no book so bad that you can’t find anything in it of interest. (“Admittedly,” he writes, “neither Pliny nor Cervantes were subject to some of the weakest ‘sex and shopping’ books from the 1980s…”) But some books speak to us more than others, and this collection of essays is a brief introduction to some of the books which he has found, in a lifetime of reading, to be helpful, or illuminating, or inspiring, or wise.

Some of them I’d read as a child: Stuart Little, The Little Prince. Some I know well: “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Bird by Bird, David Copperfield. One I haven’t read is a favorite of my older daughter: Wonder. Some I’ve had on my lifetime reading list to get to someday: Giovanni’s Room, Gift from the Sea. Some I’d never heard of: Lateral Thinking, The Importance of Living, Death Be Not Proud, A Journey Around My Room. And now, of course, I want to read them all, some for the first time, some for the second time, and some for the third or fourth or maybe even fifth—I lose count—time. Because, they all do speak to us, they all do teach us: about choices, and friendship, and grief, and problem solving, and kindness, and art, and memory, and searching for answers, and travel, and all about life.


I’d borrowed this volume from the library, but I think I just may need to purchase my own copy. I suspect it is one that I’ll go back to…the next time I read one of the books Schwalbe covers here, or the next time I seek consolation, wisdom, or insight.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles




Lead-In Image Courtesy of Srijaroen / Shutterstock.com


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com



A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Anne Of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Here is New York, E.B. White

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

Lexicon, Max Barry

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Madeleine’s Ghost, Robert Girardi

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Translator, Nina Schuyler

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Weird World of Wes Beattie, John Norman Harris

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

What If?, Randall Munroe

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff