I saw this book in the Book Pages I picked up in the library this winter and this spring finally downloaded it as an audiobook. It was worth the wait.
Will Schwalbe began an informal book club with his mother as they waited for her chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer. Along the way he realizes they had been in a book club his whole life and wonders how many book clubs his mother was in with friends and family members. The book is about books and reading, it’s about life and its meaning, and it’s about mothers and sons and seeing one’s mother as a person beyond her motherhood.
Schwalbe’s mother was ahead of her time–a “working mother” when only those who had to work to survive were doing so, a woman who went from head of admissions at Harvard to a small school in New York, and who began work with refugees through the Women’s Refuge Commission. In one of my favorite stories, Mary Anne, struggling with her teenaged daughter, takes her to a refugee camp for the summer and changes the direction of their relationship and her daughter’s life. The rest of us go to the salon or shopping.
Some of the books the Schwalbes talk about are amazing, such as The Lizard Cage. The books are amazing, but so are Mary Ann’s responses. I found her an amazing contradiction: almost OCD as Will tells about her need to control everything and everyone around her (even if she was usually right), but focused on others as her life’s mission.
Because she spends her life focused on others, focusing on herself to deal with the cancer seems to be a challenge and she finds comfort in a small book, Daily Strength for Daily Needs. It’s a second-hand (or third hand or more) book and the marks on its pages Will believes gives his mother as much comfort as the words printed on the pages, themselves a collection of words from other books.
I loved this book for its meditation on books and reading, on the physicality of books, on mothers and sons, on the meaning of life, and on the way to die.
The success of the book club they began can be measured by Amazon’s recommendations. Search for any of the titles and you’ll see the rest suggested for your purchase. Books do that. They touch someone and then someone else and someone else. And we touch them.