Books for Living by Will Schwalbe


I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life by Will Schwalbe.  Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life was published in e-book and hardback by Two Roads Books, an imprint of John Murray, on 12th January 2017 and is available for purchase here. You can find out more about the book here too.

As well as my review of Books for Living, and sharing some of my own important books, I have a UK only giveaway at the bottom of this blog post where you can enter to win a hardbacked copy of this lovely book.

Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life


‘I’m on a search and have been all my life: to find books to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person, to help me get my head around the big questions that I have, and figure out the answers to some of the small ones while I’m at it’ Will Schwalbe

Why is it that we read? Is it to pass time? To learn something new? To escape into another reality?
For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, to become a better person, and to find the answers to the big (and small) questions about how to live his life. In this delightful celebration of reading, Schwalbe invites us along on his quest for books that speak to the specific challenges of living in our modern world, with all its noise and distractions.
In each chapter, he discusses a particular book-what brought him to it (or vice versa), the people in his life he associates with it, and how it became a part of his understanding of himself in the world. These books span centuries and genres (from classic works of adult and children’s literature to contemporary thrillers and even a cookbook), and each one relates to the questions and concerns we all share. Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honour those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully.
Rich with stories and recommendations, Books for Living is a treasure for everyone who loves books and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What are you reading?”

Books covered include:
David Copperfield
Stuart Little
The Importance of Living
Giovanni’s Room
Bird by Bird
The Girl On The Train

‘I used to say that the greatest gift you could ever give anyone is a book. But I don’t say that anymore because I no longer think it’s true. I now say that a book is the second greatest gift. I’ve come to believe that the greatest gift you can give anyone is to take the time to talk with someone about a book you’ve shared. A book is a great gift; the gift of your interest and attention is even greater’ Will Schwalbe

My Review of Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life but it is a real gem of a book. Yes, it’s a book about books that will appeal to readers, but it is so much more besides.

I didn’t read Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life chronologically. I read the introduction which immediately had me hooked as I felt Will Schwalbe understood what it is that makes us human and then I read A Final Word, dipping in and out of the other chapters over several days as they appealed to me.

The writing is lively, intelligent and measured. I had the feeling reading this that were I able to discuss books with Will Schwalbe, and discussing books is what he advocates, he’d really listen and consider what I had to say. I thoroughly enjoyed the anecdotal elements the writer includes so that I felt I learnt something about the man as well as what he has enjoyed reading. In particular, the description of grief in the David Copperfield chapter really resonated with me. There is a deeply spiritual undercurrent to the book. As a complete atheist I didn’t feel the references to God or belief were intrusive or irrelevant. What I did find was a way of living that is an example to us all.

Books for Living: A Reader’s Guide to Life is really an exploration of humanity. It is filled with wise advice and great counsel (for example, the only people you should never, ever trust are the people who say, ‘Trust me.’). After a terrible year in 2016 I’m going to tackle 2017 as the book suggests – ‘bird by bird‘.

My Books for Living

I have a degree in English and European Literature. I’m an ex-English teacher. I inspected English and was an Educational consultant specialising in English and literacy. So, I’ve always been immersed in books haven’t I?

Well, no. I come from a background where, when I was a young child, money was so tight there was certainly not enough to spare for books. I lived in a tiny Northamptonshire village where the nearest library was a bus ride away on a bus that came once a week. I was a late reader partly because my much older sister read to me and partly because I had such poor sight that it wasn’t until I got glasses just before I was 8 that I could see there were words and not smudges on a page. And that was when the magical world of books opened up to me.


The first book I can ever remember reading by myself was The Ship of Adventure by Enid Blyton. I don’t know if that’s where my love of travel came from as the Famous Five sailed off to Greece but I remember the thrill of the plot as the villains chased along. I think that book was the moment when I realised reading was going to be a very important part of my life. From then on I almost never had my nose out of a book.


As soon as I had the reading bug I spent every penny from pocket money on books and the ones I adored the most were the Michael Bond Paddington ones. I still have the original copies I bought in the 1960s and my husband will read them to me, putting on a range of voices for Paddington, Mrs Bird and Mr Curry and so on such that they still remain one of the greatest pleasures I have. Paddington books are part of the very fabric of our relationship.

The third book that really resonates with me as an important part of my life is Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.


I think Tess has genuinely shaped my life. I first read Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the summer of 1997 when I’d finished my O’Levels and was reading ahead for my A’Level English. It was my first independent ‘classic’ read and I was entranced. My English teachers were stunning (and although one has passed away I still see the other for coffee occasionally) and through Tess and other texts they instilled a love of words, a realisation that books could be life changing and a passion for reading.

Had it not been for Tess I doubt I’d have read English at university and the rest of my life would have been very different. I don’t think I’d have had the opportunity to work all over England, in Paris, the Channel Islands and New York. I’d have not met and taught literally hundreds of youngsters and I’d never have had the adventures I have experienced.


More recently, I have a special place for a few lines from Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Albom. I was lent this book by a member of the U3A reading group to which I belong and found a few words I felt summed up how I feel about life. I am going to use them at my funeral (not that I intend using them any time soon) but recently, when my father died, I had them read at his service.


I think they are wonderful words to live by:

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there.



Please click here for your chance to enter to win a hardback copy of Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. (UK only I’m afraid. Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Saturday 21st January 2017).

About Will Schwalbe


Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing for many years. He is the author of the international bestseller, The End of Your Life Book Club and co-author (with David Shipley) of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better. He has also worked in digital media, and was the founder of As a journalist he wrote for the New York Times and the South China Morning Post. He lives in New York City.

You can follow Will on Twitter, and visit his website. You’ll also find him on Facebook

There’s more with these other bloggers:


23 thoughts on “Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

  1. What a brilliant idea for a book! I shall certainly want to read this.
    Your mention of The Ship of Adventure whisked me back to 1950s England and reading by torchlight under the bedclothes because I was so desperate to know what happened next…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review and reflections. “Tess” was also a landmark book in my late teens/early 20s. I’ve been wanting to get hold of Will Schwalbe’s book, so thank you for running the giveaway. Fingers crossed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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