Books

Why Books and Reading Are More Important Than Ever

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Editor's Note:

Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing; digital media, as the founder and CEO of Cookstr.com, and as a journalist, writing for various publications, including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post. His latest book, Books for Living, explores the power of books to shape our lives in an era of constant connectivity. Here, Will discusses why books and reading are more important than ever.

When I can’t stand to look at one more hateful tweet from the president, I read a book.

When I turn on the television to hear the news and all I hear is people shouting and talking over one another, I read a book.

When I realize that I have 1,200 unread emails, I read a book.

When the apartment is a mess and friends are on their way over, I read a book.

You get the point. When I’m stressed, I grab a book. I also read when I’m not stressed. I like to read. And that’s a good thing because I work in publishing and I write books. You can’t (or shouldn’t) do either unless you like to read them.

When it’s a beautiful day, I read in the park.

When it’s raining, I read under the covers.

When I’m on a plane, I read on the plane.

When the plane is stuck on the tarmac, I have more time to read on the plane.

In Books for Living, my most recent book, I described the ways books have guided me throughout my life. On the last page, I wrote that books remain one of the few defenses we have against narrowness, domination, and mind control. But only if we read them – and then only if we spring into action based on what we’ve learned and discovered. Books can’t do anything by themselves. They need us.

Today we need to read more than ever. And we need to act now more than ever.

If you are reading this essay, you aren’t reading a book. At least, not this very second. But you’re probably a book reader or you wouldn’t have found your way here or clicked on the shared link that brought these words to your attention. And there’s the rub. I’m writing a piece about the importance of books for an audience already sold on the concept. And it’s taking you (and me) away from them.

So I want you to stop reading this (so I can stop writing it). Go read The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, a haunting novel about friendship. Go read Less by Andrew Sean Greer, one of the funniest books I’ve read in years – but also a book that had me sobbing at the end (happy tears). Go read Glass Houses by Louise Penny; this new novel is a masterwork that shook me with its exploration of justice, retribution, guilt, and honor. Go read Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson, a book of breathtaking urgency.

As for me, I’m going to read Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, a first novel set in Jamaica; it just won the Lambda Literary Award and all my friends who have read it are obsessed. And I’m going to read Walter Stahr’s Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary; Stahr’s biography of William Henry Seward consumed me three summers back. And An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn. It looks right up my alley. And The Leavers, a novel by Lisa Ko; Ann Patchett loved it, so I’m pretty sure I will too. And then I don’t know what’s next. But I have many ideas. So many books, so little time.

Seriously. Go. I’ve got books to read. You do, too. And in the immortal words of June Carter Cash: Time’s A Wastin’.