I visited the library for the first time in years a few weeks ago (I think I need to dedicate a whole post to my trip to the library) and I wasn’t planning on reading any non-fiction but while I was waiting to update my card I was drawn to a shelf and a particular book. I picked it up, read the back and knew straight away that I had to read this book. The timing could not have been more perfect!
About the book
“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.
Firstly, a book about books is almost always enjoyable because it is written with the same understanding, passion, love and enjoyment of reading that I have. But this one, well, it was basically written for me at this exact moment in my life. I have mentioned here before about a family member being diagnosed with cancer – it wasn’t easy. There are so many fears, unanswered questions and you are just left feeling sif, for lack of a better word. Well this book helped, a bit.
The title pretty much sums it up – a mother and son form a book club while he sits with her at her chemotherapy treatments as she nears the end of her life. The bond that they form over books is memorable and special. The lessons that they learn and take away from books are inspiring. Will Schwalbe’s mom herself was inspiring and did so much for humanity which brings up the question we ask so often, “why do such horrible things happen to good people?”. The book doesn’t have the answer, and I have been forced to face that I will never ever find the answer.
I thought it would be extremely sad and it was because a man lost his mother to this disgusting disease but it didn’t make me sad about my reality, it actually comforted me, somehow. There was no magical and brilliant ending but rather a realistic one. It was always up and down in this book, much like cancer and life is. I think the reality check and perhaps learning a few things I didn’t know and having some of my questions answered through this book made me accept what was happening.
This book is a journey of a son who watches his mom die which is probably one of the hardest things someone ever has to face but in it are lessons to be learnt about not only cancer but about family, books, the world, life, gratitude, time, appreciation. I don’t know if I ever would have read this if it hadn’t been for someone close to me suffering with the same disease but I am glad that I found it at the time that I did because it helped me, and I like to think that is maybe part of the reason Will Schwalbe wrote it.
I cannot actually rate this because how do you rate such a realistically beautiful and sad story? But I can say that if you have questions, you might find the answers in this book, or even another. Books are one of the most beautiful but also undervalued things in this life and this one reminded me of just that.