“What are you reading?”
That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.
This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.
Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.
For many of my past book posts I've said things like "pass the tissues" or "this is a real tearjerker" and I always did feel emotion and sadness when reading those books, but I pretty much never actually cry tears when reading a book. It takes a LOT for me to cry reading a book...that is, until I read this one. I finished this on the plane out to California and I had to put it down at one point to take a minute because I couldn't stop crying.
Will Schwalbe had two incredible last years with his mother before pancreatic cancer took her life. In those two years through the books they both read together, they explored topics and had remarkable conversations together that they never would have otherwise had. The relationship between the Mother and her son (the book's author) is beautiful and genuine. He portrays his mother in such a respectful, wonderful way that it made me sad I never got to meet her myself. She sounded like an incredible woman, and I can only hope that in my final years I am as surrounded by love and family as her.
The end of the book is sad, as you can guess. It reminded me a lot of when my grandmother was in hospice and it was just this "waiting" period...where you know what's coming, but you don't want it to. Will Schwalbe has written an incredibly touching and moving tribute to his mother. Though it was sad, I really enjoyed reading it.