In this collection of short conversational essays, Schwalbe takes us on a tour of books that have had meaning in his life and offers observations on the ways certain books have particular impact, when they seem to speak to our life at that moment – “the right book at the right time”. The books we return to for insight or comfort, the books that link us to a person or memory, the books that helped us see other lives and other possibilities, these would make an interesting bookshelf of a life.
His reading list included many familiar titles but also several unknown to me. Some of the familiar ones are unread as well. I’ve shelved many copies of Anne Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea at the library booksale but never given it a look. His enthusiasm makes me reconsider my casual dismissal of a “celebrity” book. Several others have been added to that long list of books I’d like to read or at least sample. I’m generally content to let those come to me by chance in a used bookstore, but I think I’ll go looking for A Journey Around My Room written by Xavier de Maistre in 1790 while he served 42 days of house arrest for dueling. Too intriguing to miss.
Books connect us to other readers, to authors, and to other books in an unending chain or web of language and associations. Schwalbe urges us when we read to think about the ways those connections of language and ideas shape our lives. Talking about literature can help us understand ourselves better and can foster deeper connections with the people we care about. He suggests we greet friends with “what are you reading now?” And most importantly, to share what we read. He used to say that a book is the greatest gift you can give anyone, but no longer. The greatest gift is to give a book and then share it in conversation. “What did you think? Did it make you remember/feel/want to do…? I was moved by…” We give ourselves when we meet another person over a book.