Book Club

Your mother is dying

What do you read to her?


During the pandemic, she started an online book club

For her school-aged grandchildren

Now they’re lounging in the cool, dark house

But she’s too tired to run the meeting

That’s become your job

Pick a book


Thousands to choose from

No one you know has more books than your mother

Literally hundreds of feet of crammed shelves

No one you know reads more carefully than your mother

Delving deep into the choices behind each word

Pick a book


She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But the grandkids adore it

And no one takes more joy than your mother

From watching children thrill to new discoveries

You remember that road trip

Rained out, holed up in the motel

She read The Hobbit out loud every night

Doing the Gollum voice with a wicked grin

So scary, warm, and cozy all at once


She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But you remember finding her old

Ray Bradbury books, yellowed and crumbling

Broken-spined and ancient even in 1979

You’d never read anything

So fresh and new

Two Christmases later she gave you that huge anthology

Of Bradbury’s short stories

You’d never owned a book so thick

And full of everything


She says she doesn’t love fantasy

And she probably never read more than five of the

Five hundred comic books you wrote during her lifetime

But she loved your essay about playing D&D as a kid

Almost as much as she loved

The short story you wrote when you were sixteen

About a mother baking bread

As she watched her boy climb a tree in the back yard

Approaching the sky

Growing up and away


She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But you saw her eyes shine

Forty years ago when you stood in the kitchen

Talking about Dandelion Wine and she remembered

The thrill of new sneakers


In the living room

The grandchildren curl into couches and chairs

Around her electric hospice bed

She listens intensely, eyes closed

Smiling as you read aloud


Douglas blitzing through summer

On his Royal Crown Cream-Sponge

Para Litefoot tennis shoes


Douglas in the woods

Stalked by the glorious monster of awareness

Suddenly conscious of being alive


Douglas in the cupola at daybreak, gazing out over Green Town

A young god rousing this tiny world from bed

Commanding the sun to rise


The kids audibly exhale when you close the book

Like child actors in a ’40s movie

You think of Douglas letting out a low whistle of astonishment

“It’s just the regular world

But it reads like fantasy,” they say


Your mother beams and glows

Eyes still closed

Basking in her grandchildren’s wonder


A year later you finally finish rereading the book

And you sob

Because after the pages you read to your mother

It’s all death and decline

The Ravine

The despair of the Happiness Machine

Old Mrs. Bentley burning her things

Great-Grandma dying, gently and freely

(That’s the fantasy)

Douglas realizing someday he, too, will die


You wanted to protect your mother

Raise her into the cupola

So she could gaze out over Green Town

And summon summer’s first sunrise

Forever and again


But look at all those books in her house

So many voices grappling with the hardest questions anyone can ask

She read so closely

Parsing every word

She said she didn’t love fantasy

But she was just critiquing escape

She wanted something real

Even in this book

Even if she didn’t remember the specifics

She knew the summer would end


Still, you’re glad you stopped reading where you did

Maybe you did it for her

Maybe for the kids

Maybe for yourself

And why not?

Why not give us all that moment before the inevitable?

That’s real, too

(Eyes closed, listening with every fiber, beaming as the children exhale)


Douglas astonished

So thrilled to know he was alive


Greg Pak

Greg Pak is a writer and filmmaker best known for his feature film Robot Stories and for writing over 550 comic books, including classic series like Planet Hulk, Darth Vader, Mech Cadet Yu, and Ronin Island. He wrote The Princess Who Saved Herself, the beloved children’s book based on the song by Jonathan Coulton, and recently released I Belong to You / Motherland, an illustrated book of poetry set to music by Inversion Ensemble. Pak co-created the Marvel characters Amadeus Cho with artist Takeshi Miyazawa and Wave with artist Leinil Yu. For more, please visit

One Response to “Book Club”

  1. davidbarker109

    This was fantastic! I adore the 90’s suburban mom vibes, and I’m not even a big lover of reading about vampires, but this book was just so much fun and eerie, and there were certainly a few terrifying passages that have stuck with me since I completed it.

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