Responsible Reading and Radical Listening – The Time I Met Will Schwalbe

There were so many things I wanted to title this post… “Long Live the Tree Books,” “Becoming a Watch Deputy,” and (the title that almost made the cut) “Buying Books We Knock Over.” (I call dibs on all these titles for future posts.)

This past spring Aunt Carol recommended that I read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. The End of Your Life Book Club is a memoir of the books Will and his mother read and bonded over during her diagnosis and treatment for Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

I am not gonna lie. Reading this book made me feel smarter because Will and his mother Mary Anne read some AMAZING stuff. (I have an entire Goodreads book shelf dedicated to books I learned about in The End of Your Life Book Club.) It wasn’t so much the knowledge about the books they read that increased my intelligence; it was the way Will conveyed the powerful life lessons fostered by their reading, conversations, and the tremendous responsibility assumed because of their reading that made me feel smarter.

Will SchwalbeWill was announced as the author of the 2017 Capital READ in June. I was so excited! The date went immediately on my calendar and I ordered a new hardback copy of The End of Your Life Book Club from Amazon Marketplace.

Will Schwalbe 2When my copy arrived, I discovered that I had unwittingly ordered an autographed copy. I was bummed because I wanted my copy to be signed when I met Will. (Silly thing to be bummed about, right?) My signed copy ended up being a cool thing.

Eager for his presentation I arrived early to the library. Upon my arrival I discovered that A LOT of people were eager for the presentation as the Gallery was already very full. My friend Madeline was one of the organizers for the event and as I entered the Gallery she was speaking to none other than THE Will Schwalbe. I smiled at her and waved. She waved back and I joined them. Will could not have been more kind and I was so tickled when he asked, “So what are you reading?” It was a conversation I will not forget any time soon. In talking to Will, I learned my already-signed copy of The End of Your Life Book Club was a part of his first edition. He did in fact sign my book, along with 4,999 others, in the same pen with which he would later personalize my copy.

To begin his presentation, Will removed his watch and explained that it is his practice to keep the watch on the podium so as to not run over on time and his habit to later forget the watch. He then deputized us all in as “Watch Deputies” responsible for reminding him to collect his timepiece. (Hence, my proposed title of “Becoming a Watch Deputy.”) As he spoke Will referred to many things in The End of Your Life Book Club that I had stored in my heart and once again inspired me to read and share the experience with others. His speech touched on his own experiences of reading, writing, and sharing his mother’s legacy with all those he encounters. He also spoke about his new book, Books for Living, a collection of stories about books and people that have helped define his life.

He emphasized the responsibility that comes from reading. His mother instilled the understanding, when something is read and creates emotion in its reader, that emotion is now a call to do something about it. Will talked about how much his mother worked to share novels that were about faith or the plight of refugees. In sharing those works she handed down the responsibility to answer the call to have faith or seek means to assist immigrants and refugees. Reading clearly comes with powerful responsibility.

Will also proposed that reading be re-branded. He believes reading should be re-branded as “Radical Listening.” This is a TERRIFIC brand because, as Will pointed out, reading makes you cry, yell, and write in the margins. It is the only means by which we communicate that the words cannot be rearranged or edited. They are forever in the order and arrangement of the author. It is that consistency of presentation that forces us to listen to their words over and over. No matter the time, place, or format, we are forced to listen to their message. It is a completely radical notion. 😉

His unifying message challenged us to ask, “What are you reading?” to everyone we meet. That open-ended question could be the key to bridging the divisions within our nation and world. “What are you reading?” That question commits us to forming a conversational bond with those we meet and creates connections through the written word, again inspiring “Radical Listening.”

Will talked about rules for selecting what books to read. The rule that seemed most fateful is one inspired by his self-proclaimed clumsiness.

png 1 The rule is stated as such: If you knock over a book in a book store or library, you are henceforth required to read it.

This rule had proven to be a lucky one for Will and I hope to adopt it for my own reading selection process. (Watch out great books of the world! I am about to knock off your shelves.)

To close his speech, Will read his mother’s Rules for Life, including: making your bed daily, always unpack your suitcase, talk to everyone you meet, and most of all be kind. It was a sweet and powerful conclusion.

After his formal speech, Will opened up to a Q&A session. The questions asked were insightful and Will’s responses genuine and intelligent. I had an opportunity to ask Will about something that I have struggled with as a sharer of books. I shared my concern caused by detachment from physical books because of the prevalence of eBooks. I worry that there isn’t the same connect-ability to a screen that there is to a tangible, page-turnable book. Will said he understood my conundrum and reminded us that his mother’s ability to be surrounded by her beloved volumes of books was part of the comfort she found at the end of her life. He assured me that while eBooks are here to stay so are “Tree Books.” (“Long Live Tree Books”)

Will Schwalbe 4The Q&A session was followed up by a Meet and Greet. I happily purchased a copy of Books for Living and hopped in line for Will’s signature. Will graciously signed both of my books and took a picture with me. It was AWESOME!

I am so honored that I had the opportunity to meet, hear, and speak with Will Schwalbe. I am looking forward to his future work and hope to carry on the responsibility that comes with reading. Please take time to check out both of Will’s books. You will find the story of the unconventional book club formed by he and his mother to be heart-warming and powerful. The books described and the impacts on the book club will inspire you and the responsibility that comes from reading them will refresh your outlook. Do some “Radical Listening” today!

By: Melanie A. Peters

P.S. What are you reading?

P.P.S. Seriously, you need to check out Will Schwalbe’s books
The End of Your Life Book Club  ISBN 9780307594037
Books for Living ISBN 9780385353540





9 thoughts on “Responsible Reading and Radical Listening – The Time I Met Will Schwalbe

  1. I’ve never heard of Will and his book. I have to admit that anything with the title “book club” I make a rule to shy away from. My experience is that every book club book is long-winded, dramatic, boring, and slow as well as oddly negative.
    Would you say your experience with his recommendations was different?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will’s has such an engaging way of writing. I think you would really enjoy his work. The “book club” he had with his mother was an unconventional one. I think you will appreciate how they defined their “club.” There are many fun and inspiring book clubs out there. I have always had luck engaging in motivational and meaningful conversations and debates about our reading. You just have to find the right club for you. 🙂 Thank you for reading.


  2. What an amazing author!! He sounds like such a great guy. So happy you got to meet him! This is my first time hearing about him, but I am intrigued now. I’ll definitely look him up 🙂 that’s so cool that he personalized your copies! Loved reading about your experience with meeting him!

    Liked by 1 person

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