Will Schwalbe | Nonfiction, 2012
Tenderhearted. I searched Google for the right word … I think this comes the closest. Will Schwalbe casually asks his mother Mary Anne what she is reading, as they await one of her first appointments with her oncologist. Mary Anne has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This mother and son had often talked about books, but now the circumstances presented themselves and the conversations became more important. More essential. They establish a two-person book club and read many books together, typically discussing them while Mary Anne receives her chemo treatments.
Does that sound maudlin? Well, it isn’t. It is a loving story of two people communicating over a shared passion. And Mary Anne is a fascinating person, having worked with refugees for most of her life and intent on securing funding for a library and mobile van libraries in Afghanistan before she dies.
You must love books to enjoy this book. I was concerned that the books they chose might be obscure, or all about cancer, death and dying. But they choose a wide range, from Stieg Larsson to Wallace Stegner to Karen Connelly to Kabat-Zinn. The way in which Schwalbe describes key messages and awareness from the books, and how he and his mom agree, disagree, and learn … you do not need to have read the books. I have read many, but certainly not all, of what they choose. AND you may be drawn to certain books, because of the conversations they have. Personally, I ordered from the library The Price of Salt (which they both read lightning fast), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (they fought about the ending), and Harold and the Purple Crayon. (And, about children’s books, I loved to hear them recount the family disputes about Tolkien vs CS Lewis.)
I can recommend this book to book lovers. There is not a strong “plot” …. you know that they will keep reading until Mary Ann dies … but you may find the inner workings of this “book club” as tender and as interesting as I did.