“What are you reading?” As a bookseller I answer this question several times a day. It is always a pleasure to help someone find a book that they will enjoy.
In this lovely and poignant book about a mother and son facing the mother’s terminal illness, it is the question that will spark a new appreciation for the power of books and their love for each other. At first they are doubtful, “Can you run a book club with just two people?” they wonder. Soon the very question itself is left behind as they throw themselves into book after wonderful book and share what they find together.
As an editor in chief for Hyperion Books, board member at Yale University Press, and a respected columnist, Will Schwalbe knows books. What his mother, Mary Ann, contributes to the “club” is a lifetime of involvement in theater, a tenure as director of admissions at Harvard and Radcliffe, and her experience as an organizer for refugee rescue efforts in Afghanistan. It would be hard to find two finer more inquisitive minds.
Mr. Schwalbe gives a concise and deft accounting of the book they are reading in each chapter. The titles they choose are a rogues gallery of some of the most notable and interesting books to be found. Among the titles that they read and discuss are several of my favorites, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and many others that I now intend to read. Each chapter is explored and insights sought, in their readings and discussions, about the diversity of human experience, and the necessity of a well-considered life.
This book will definitely not leave a “dry eye in the house” as Will and Mary Ann face the unavoidable conclusion of her pancreatic cancer, which can be “treated” though not “cured”. Like Mary Ann, who likes to start a book by reading the ending, we already know where everything is going, and we mourn her loss from the very beginning.
However, it is the journey that is important in this book, and it is a journey of exploration and communication. This book is a heartfelt investigation of what is wonderful about reading and the joy of sharing those wonders with someone you love.