When this one first came out, I saw all the great reviews but I quickly turned and looked the other way. Obviously someone is going to die! And I will weep, and it will be ugly, and I might even be angry that my emotions are being manipulated. I don't take kindly to that.
But then I got the annual e-mail. J.P. Morgan puts out a reading list each year for their employees...recommendations of non-fiction books that "offer meaningful insights into international politics, culture and art". Isn't that cool? One of my husband's colleagues works for J.P. Morgan and I have come to expect his e-mail asking which book he should read. This book was on the list, and I took it as a sign. I told him that if he read it, so would I. Tears be damned.
Synopsis: Will Schwalbe and his mother have always had books in common. For Will, books were his life, as he (at the time) was a Senior VP and Editor In Chief of Hyperion Books. His mother Mary Ann was a world traveler...always on a humanitarian mission of some kind of war-torn country. Before that she was a working mother when most of them stayed home - a smart, determined, independent mother of three.
But then Mary Ann was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, spending all of her time at the hospital, often with Will at her side. To pass the hours, Mary Ann and Will established a two-person book club, and shared insightful conversations about everything from Gilead to Olive Kitteredge to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This was the connection and the common ground that brought mother and son together for the remainder of Mary Ann's days.
This is a tribute to book lovers. It is a tribute to mothers and sons. And it is a tribute to the human dynamo that was Mary Ann Schwalbe.
My thoughts: Despite the inevitable, I was incredibly pleased that this book did not attempt to force my tears. Nor does Will wallow in self-pity. He has managed to write a memoir about death that is actually uplifting and inspiring. This was a woman who faced a very scary situation with courage, surrounded by her books and her family, and even raising money for a library in Afghanistan up until the very end. I finished the book thinking "when I go, I want to go down like Mary Ann".
I was equally as impressed with their reading list. It was seriously high octane stuff that any book club would be proud to read. Some I'd already read, but most I hadn't and I found myself adding to The List That Lives on in Infinity. I found it clever that Will was able to take their current reads, and relate the various plots to their lives. It seemed that each book was chosen at the perfect time and served a specific purpose.
My only disappointment was that the discussions of each book were fairly top level, without much depth. Still, they read so many books in those last two years of Mary Ann's life, it probably wasn't reasonable to talk at length about each book. (That is the problem with bookworms...we always want more. Until we get more, then it is too much.) Anyway the real treat here, besides just reading about people who love books as much as "we" do, is learning about a truly remarkable woman who found comfort from them in her last days.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this audio was Jeff Harding, a new voice for me. This is not what I would call a challenging listen in the scheme of things...the book is written by Will in first person, there aren't too many characters, and is basically conversational. The audio version did not particularly knock my socks off, but I did find Jeff's voice pleasant to listen to.
Audio book length: 9 hours and 40 minutes (352 pages)
4 out of 5 stars