, Muskogee, OK


April 23, 2013

Enter mother-son literary circle

In “The End of Your Life Book Club” editor Will Schwalbe documents the last two years of his mother’s life and the books they read together in their own unique book club of two.  Whereas “Tuesday’s With Morrie” was short and poignant, Schwalbe delves into a special camaraderie found with his mother, Mary Anne, built around a love for ideas and good literature.  Together they start what his mother dubbed “the world’s only foodless book club.”

Some of the books they explore include his mother’s favorites from long ago and recent books that have come into his publishing house.  Among the titles they discuss are classics like T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt,” and “Brat Farrar” by Josephine Tey. Then there were spiritual works like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” and the 1884 devotional “Daily Strength for Daily Needs” by Mary Wilder Tiletson, a book given to Mary Anne by a Harvard friend.  And then there were novels dealing with modern culture clashes, such as Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” by Daniyal Mueenudinn. Being allowed in on the conversation about these books between the erudite mother-son duo is remarkable.

But what is really more remarkable is the way in which Schwalbe explores American society in transition through his mother’s life. Born in the 1930’s, Mary Anne saw the rise of women in the workforce and unprecedented opportunity for women to achieve self-realization.  She was an administrator at Harvard and later went on to found the Women’s Refugee Commission and lead other humanitarian efforts for women and children.  She spearheaded the building of a library in Kabul and helped establish traveling libraries in Afghanistan. By the end of the book, Mary Anne is like your own mother, and you wonder how you will go on without her.

Schwalbe describes a few final family dinners with his mother, especially  Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday. When we are mindful of life, every day is reason to give thanks. Try this simple meal that thankfully takes only 30 minutes to prepare.

Angel Hair Pasta with Red and Green Peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red bell pepper, sliced thin

1 green pepper, sliced thin

6 green onions, cut into thin strips

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

4 Colavita angel hair pasta nests

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta and cook according to directions. Drain and cover to keep warm.  Do not break nests apart. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add peppers and sauté about 4 minutes, until tender.  Add green onion to pan and continue sautéing until limp. Place pasta nests on individual plates.  Top evenly with vegetables.  Add pine nuts to sauté pan and toast til browning.  Top pasta with nuts.  Serve.

Field Greens Salad

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons diced onion

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 sack prepared field greens

4 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into strips

1 apple sliced

In food processor combine sugar, lemon juice, mustard, onion and salt. Blend well.  With machine still running, add oil and process until smooth.  In a large salad bowl, combing remaining ingredients.  Add dressing just before serving and toss to coat.

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