The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) might’ve bid adieu to its summer programming (see: Zac Brown Band and the Philadelphia Orchestra), but that doesn’t mean the venue’s shut its doors until next year. On the contrary. SPAC has a ton of fall/winter programming coming for Saratogians to enjoy, and one such event is its 14th Annual Fall Lecture Luncheon on Thursday, October 18. This year’s featured guest? New York Times-bestselling author Will Schwalbe, best known for his 2012 memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club, who will be presenting an inspirational talk entitled, “Reading…One of Life’s Greatest Pleasures.” Schwalbe’s presentation will be the centerpiece to SPAC’s popular luncheon, which in the past has featured guests such as award-winning NPR host and correspondent Jacki Lyden, bestselling author Andrew Gross and acclaimed novelist and James Michener Fellow Elizabeth Brundage.
“I was so thrilled to be invited to this event in Saratoga, because it strikes me as a wonderfully literary community,” says Schwalbe, who has visited the Spa City before. “Generally, I’m just sort of bowled over by the interest in the arts in every form there.” Schwalbe has worked as a journalist and written for television, but he’s best known for his book, The End of Your Life Book Club, which details his relationship with his late mother—and the book club they started—while she was undergoing treatment for cancer. The power of books was also the central theme in Schwalbe’s 2016 follow-up, Books for Living, a collection of 26 essays on the different books that were important to him, and how to apply the lessons and emotions within their pages to your day-to-day life. “This is a phrase I use a lot, but I want to take reading and rebrand it as ‘radical listening,’” Schwalbe says. “Because, to some degree, part of the contract of reading is to say, ‘OK, I’m going to be quiet. I’m going to put my thoughts aside for a little while, and I’m going to listen to somebody else.’ And really, in our society at this moment, nothing could be more valuable.”
Schwalbe was raised on books; he has fond memories of his parents reading to him even after he was old enough to read on his own (he still liked hearing the stories read out loud). His enduring love of books has led Schwalbe to a nearly lifelong career in publishing: first at William Morrow and at Hyperion as Editor-in-Chief, and then at his own startup called Cookstr.com, which he ran for six years and is now part of Macmillan Publishers (where he’s worked since 2014). But Schwalbe isn’t a literary elitist, by any means: The list of titles in his Books For Living include everything from literary cookbooks (The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis) and children’s books (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) to full-on classics (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens). “My point is never apologize [for what you’re reading],” Schwalbe says. “If you’re enjoying it, if you’re getting something out of it, then that’s great.” (Schwalbe is even a fan of the popular children’s novel series, Captain Underpants, though it’s not on his list in Books for Living.)
Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s President and CEO, is a big fan of the author. “Will Schwalbe’s The End of Life Book Club is one of the most moving and affecting books I’ve ever read,” she says. “He is a deeply humane, humorous and inspiring speaker.” The fundraiser is presented by SPAC’s Action Council and includes coffee and tea at 9:30am before Schwalbe’s presentation, and, in addition to the gourmet luncheon, a mini-boutique shopping experience featuring nearly 20 local shops and vendors with an assortment of gifts, apparel, specialty foods and more for sale. Purchase your tickets here.