These past weeks we have been shelving in our library the books we reviewed in 2016 and organizing the ones that have come in for review in 2017. So the subject of how reading helps us find meaning and purpose in our lives is on our minds. In an elegantly written essay for The Wall Street Journal online, Will Schwalbe pays tribute to the art of reading.
He points to how busy we are and the thousands of distractions that nibble away at our time until the day is over and we wonder how we managed to miss most of it. Schwalbe believes that books can be tools to help us "change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity." As an example, he tells a story about a grandmother who had little in common with her grandson until they both were reading The Hunger Games; soon they were discussing important questions about survival and destruction, loyalty and betrayal, good and evil, and politics.
The author finds himself in his mid-50s, a classic time for introspection.
He's looking for "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." He speaks for all of us who enjoy a broad range of book genres. It is possible nowadays to discover invaluable advice not only in self-help and spiritual books but in novels, essay collections, poetry, and other genres.
Schwalbe shares the doses of wisdom he received early in his life from E. B. White's Stuart Little; he describes it as a tale of "radical acceptance." He commends to us David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, a novel that helped him through the worst times in his life. When he entered the workforce, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea taught him about priorities.
We've made our choices of the books that had the greatest impact on us in 2016. Now we begin anew looking for the most spiritually literate books of 2017. They are one way we can water the positive seeds within us even as the outer world tries desperately to cope with cyberwars, drones, racism, terrorism, and the other downers of our times. We concur with Schwalbe who concludes his essay with the following:
"Reading isn't just a strike against narrowness, mind control, and domination: It's one of the world's great joys."