Saturday, June 19, 2010

Reading By Moonlight by Brenda Walker

Release Date (Australia): 29 March 2010
Rating: 7/10

The first time Brenda packed her bag to go into hospital, she wondered which book to take. Her life had been built around reading and writing. Now she was also a patient, being treated for breast cancer, battling for her life and terrified for herself and her family. But turning to medicine didn’t mean she turned away from literature. Books had always been her solace and sustenance, and now, choosing the right one was the most important thing she could do for herself.

A book that has the subtitle “How books saved a life” is naturally going to catch my eye. I am a firm believer in the idea that art, whether it be in the form of books or music or any other kind, can save your life. It can help you through things you don’t believe you’re strong enough to survive and sometimes you don’t want to burden the people you love with how much pain you might be in or how sick you feel. There are books that I have re-read more than ten times and with those books are the individual memories of who I was and where I was in my life at each reading. “My” books, as I tend to call the ones I hold close to my heart, are the ones that such memories are attached to. They are my lifelines.

Brenda Walker is a Perth author who has written of the books that helped her through the surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. Reading By Moonlight is beautifully written and shows the reader how the process of reading can almost mirror the process of healing. Many authors are delved into throughout the book, but some of Brenda’s favourites seem to include Samuel Beckett, Dante Alighieri, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, and Charles Dickens. The insights into the writers and books are fascinating, intelligent, and often beautiful.

Empathy, the way that we can place ourselves, imaginatively, in the position of another person, is at the heart of what we do as readers, as people striving for a generous understanding of one another.

The book is broken up into Brenda’s five stages of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, and survival. Her writing enters a positivity to the horrific process of breast cancer, a disease that affects almost everyone in some way, whether it be directly, or through a family member or friend with the disease. Stories are told with emotional optimism; Brenda’s first thought after her diagnosis was that she can’t leave her son alone.

That’s when it came, the simultaneous sense of falling and of being crushed. I was thinking about my son. He was fourteen then. I knew, urgently, that I couldn’t leave him...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and being given the opportunity to gain understanding about many authors I knew, many authors I have read, and a few authors I hadn’t even heard of until now. I do hope that readers are not put off reading a biography such as this simply because of the protagonist’s breast cancer and the assumption it will be a depressing read; they will miss out on one of the most optimistic and uplifting stories of survival and an author with a natural love of reading and of life.

When I tell myself that books can save a life, I don’t mean that books can postpone death. That is the job of medicine. I mean that certain books, by showing us the inner fullness of individual life, can rescue us from a limited view of ourselves and one another.


  1. WARNING. Deep and meaningful comment coming up.

    This book is just so pretty.

  2. I don't know when I stopped reading adult novels. I feel a little guilty about it. :-P

  3. Haha, I did that for quite some time after starting working in the bookstore I work at - very easy to read YA novels all the time! They're so awesome. Just recently started reading adult novels again so now I'm about half and half :) The variety is good.