Sharing books he loved with his savvy New Yorker mom had always been a great pleasure for both mother and son, becoming especially poignant when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, at age 73. Schwalbe, founder of Cookstr.com and former editor-in-chief of Hyperion, along with his father and siblings, was blindsided by the news; his mother, Mary Ann Schwalbe, had been an indomitable crusader for human rights, once the director of admissions at Harvard, and a person of enormous energy and management skills. Could a book club be run by only two people? Schwalbe and his mother wondered as they waited together over many chemotherapy sessions at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. It didn’t matter: “Books showed us that we didn’t need to retreat or cocoon,” he writes; they provided “much-needed ballast” during an emotionally tumultuous time when fear and uncertainty gripped them both as the dreaded disease (“not curable but treatable”) progressed rapidly. From Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey to Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book to John Updike’s My Father’s Tears: the books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work.
(Starred review.) 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.
Schwalbe (co-author: Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, 2007) chronicles his book-related conversations with his mother after she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Books provided the author with much-needed ballast during the chaos and upheaval of his mother's terminal illness.... Books provided an avenue for the author and his mother to explore important topics that made them uneasy.... Each chapter holds a subtle message fleshed out through their readings and discussions, and themes include gratitude, loneliness, feminism, faith, communication, trust and grief. In a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Schwalbe illustrates the power of the written word to expand our knowledge of ourselves and others.
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