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Interviews, Biblio File

What Are You Reading? William Schwalbe Edition


This past May I hosted William Schwalbe for an author talk at Mid-Manhattan Library.  His book The End Of Your Life Book Club was a New York Times Best Seller and in his follow-up Books for Living, Schwalbe delves into which books have impacted him personally and asks the reader a familiar question, one he is fond of asking to those around him as well: “What are you reading?” In fact, when Amazon opened a bookstore around the corner from SIBL in August, the window featured this very same question as a quote:

Amazon window

It seemed only logical I turn it around and ask:

1. What are you reading?

Black Man in a White Coat cover

I’ve just started reading Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy.

He’s a remarkable storyteller and weaves together fascinating tales from his childhood, education, and life as a doctor—and patient. Some recent favorite books include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, and News of the World by Paulette Jiles, wonderful novels all. And a recent discovery is the 1947 noir novel In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. It was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. It out-noirs just about any noir novel I’ve ever read.


2. You said during your Mid-Manhattan appearance that you are a fan of audiobooks as well. Are you listening to any at the moment? ​Do you have a favorite one that stands out from the rest?

A Good Cry cover

I’m listening now to the always astonishing Nikki Giovanni read her new book of poems, A Good Cry. And next up I’m going to listen to Ruby Dee read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I read this book in college but can’t wait to revisit it. Also excited to listen to the audio of George SaundersLincoln in the Bardo. And I’m embarrassed to admit this — but I listened to my own book on audio! I was astonished at what a brilliant job the reader, Jeff Harding, did. He brought out things I didn’t even know I put in there!


3. In Books for Living you discuss the books that helped shape your life. Were there any that didn't make the cut that you'd like to give honorable mention to?

The headmaster's wager cover
Night cover

There were so many books that didn’t make the cut. I had a whole chapter about Night by Elie Wiesel. I cut the chapter because I felt I hadn’t gone nearly deep enough. It’s a book I want to write about in the future. There’s just too much to say. Another book that I wanted to write about was The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, a novel set in Vietnam. I could go on and on! Part of the point I wanted to make is that any book can be a “book for living” if it speaks to you or finds you when you need it.


4. You briefly left publishing to start Cookstr, a website full of recipes from cookbooks which was then acquired by Macmillan thus returning you to the publishing world. Do you cook, and if so what's your favorite thing to make?

I think the world divides fairly neatly into cooks and bakers. I’m a bit more of a baker. I particularly enjoy making bread. I’m not a great baker but I like the process, the feel of the dough. Watching it rise. But what I most love is to read cookbooks and eat food that others have made.


5. Is there a William Schwalbe cookbook in the future? Something along the lines of Dishes for Living where you go through recipes that mean something significant to your life?

Love this idea! Had never thought of such a thing but will now ponder. But I would probably want to write about meals others had cooked for me and what I learned not just from the food but from the person who made it. When you cook for people you give them far more than what’s on the plate, you give them something of yourself.


What celebrities or public figures are you curious about?
Whose book list would you like to read?
Let us know in the comments!


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