In his latest ode to reading, Books for Living, Will Schwalbe writes about all kinds of books - thrillers, picture books, classics, religious texts. A book doesn't have to be a venerable tome to have meaning for the reader in the moment. A book is a medium to express ideas, and those ideas can entertain or instruct, warn or pay homage. Sometimes broad ideas are best communicated through humor or a fairy tale.
Usually, I have mixed feelings about books-about-books: typically I thumb through them with some interest, but they are not books I tend to read cover-to-cover. Books for Living was different in that once begun, I felt compelled to read every page. I got something out of each chapter whether I had read the book Schwalbe was writing about or not. Each chapter is not just about the book that inspired it but illuminates some facet of life, pulling in other books and authors, world events or personal experiences as references.
Schwalbe’s observations about books as a shared experience, even with someone who can no longer read, were especially moving. There is one segment about how we communicate with those we have lost by reading the books they read or wanted to read or would have enjoyed. One can't help being reminded of Schwalbe's earlier book The End of Your Life Book Club and the books he shared with his mother as she was fighting cancer.
Schwalbe also reminds us that reading is not just a passive diversion but is often the catalyst that spurs people to action. “Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny- but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want whenever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights.”
Below are a few other books about books that can be found at FCPL. If you have a suggestion that is not listed here, please add it to the comments field.
Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, Nancy Pearl
Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers, Nancy Pearl
Booknotes: Life Stories: Notable Biographers on the People Who Shaped America, Brian Lamb
Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books, Michael Dirda
-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, City of Fairfax Library