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“What a remarkable book! Not only a love letter to his mom, but a love letter to books and their power to help us all remember both the struggle and the joy it is to be human and the grace we can find in our shared humanity. I fell head over heels for Mary Ann Schwalbe, thanks to her son's meticulous and loving tribute. In someone else's hands this is the kind of book that could have slipped into the maudlin or overwrought, but Schwalbe succeeds in portraying his mother's quiet, humble, spot-on wisdom and beautiful daring with both restraint and passion. My copy is thoroughly dog-eared. Is there any better tribute?”
— Laurie Paus, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
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.
“A wonderful book about wonderful books and mothers and sons and the enduring braid between them. Like the printed volumes it celebrates, this story will stay with you long after the last page.”
—Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Time Keeper
“Will Schwalbe’s lyrical tribute to a life well-lived and a death graced with love and literature is a precious gift bestowed on all of us. What a unique and beautiful book this is, and how privileged we are to have it.”
—Sherwin B. Nuland, author of The Art of Aging and How We Die
“With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Will Schwalbe’s brave and soulful elegy to his remarkable mother, his recollection of their sparklingly literate conversations, is a timely reminder that one exceptional person, or one exceptional book, can be a torch in the darkness. You’ll turn the last page wishing you’d met Mary Anne Schwalbe, vowing to be worthy of her incandescent example—and promising yourself to read more.”
—J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar
“Will Schwalbe gives us two love stories in one: that of his relationship with his dynamo of a mother as her horizons shrink, and that of their mutual devotion to the printed word, infinitely and insistently engaging. Tender and touching and beautifully done.”
—Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra
“This touching and insightful memoir [will] appeal to readers of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture, but also to people who love delving into books and book discussions . . . While it is a story about death, it is mostly a celebration of life and of the way books can enrich it.”
“I was so moved by this marvelous book. Schwalbe has done something extraordinary: made a personal journey public in the most engaging, funny and revealing way possible. It is a true meditation on what books can do.”
—Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes
“In a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Schwalbe illustrates the power of the written word to expand our knowledge of ourselves and others.”
“At last a book that celebrates the role books play within our own story. Will Schwalbe has created a tender, moving and honest portrayal of the precious relationship between a mother and son—an ode to that beautiful thing called love.”
—Cecelia Ahern, author of PS, I Love You
“This book is a passionate, purposeful and elegant guide to human existence. Living life, learning life and loving life. And ultimately, accepting life’s end. Mary Anne and Will have given us an exquisite gift. For a better life, better family and better world, read this moving elegy from a gifted and loving son to an extraordinary mother”
—David Rohde, co-author of A Rope and a Prayer
“An extraordinarily wise, witty, and quietly wrenching book about parental love, filial love, profound grief, and literature’s great consolations. How wonderful to encounter a writer who combines erudition with great emotional honesty, and who isn’t afraid of addressing
life’s most profound and baffling questions.”
—Douglas Kennedy, The Woman in the Fifth