Will Schwalbe has managed to write a book that not only commemorates his late mothers life, but celebrates it as well. Following her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, they start an informal book club together, hence the title. Throughout the book they read and discuss a large number of books as her treatments take place and her health deteriorates over a couple of years.
Mary Ann Schwalbe comes across as a remarkable woman; she spent time in Afghanistan and Thailand working with refugees and vulnerable people who society had abandoned and sought to bring them small simple pleasures. Not only does she has a big, generous heart, she has insight, sharp political nous and compassion. Whilst the ending is ultimately known, and expected, the way that she grabs hold of life is inspiring. Through the book the pancreatic cancer advances and retreats and she accepts the necessary pain and steady deterioration in health with humility and decorum. She also realises her privileged position, and seeks a political solution to the lack of heath care to these at the very bottom of the American health care system.
Schwalbe wears his emotions on his sleeve. And that is understandable, it is his mother after all. The books that they read together act as a comfort blanket at times; sometimes as a prism revealing their anxieties and fears, and sometimes as a mirror that shows things as they are. The book is punctuated with passages and quotes that has significance at that time. What Mary Ann Schwalbe leaves is a legacy of an immensely strong family unit and she shows an ability to look beyond where you are. The books that her and Will read add punctuation and relief to the end of her life.