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Arts & Culture

NPR's Scott Simon Comes To San Antonio, And It's Unforgettable

Scott Simon hosts NPR’s Weekend Edition program, and was in town over the weekend for the San Antonio Book Festival. But while he came to speak about his recent book, the biggest reason he came was because of who the invitation came from.  

"President Slocum, who was the President of National Public Radio, and just a great person, and she kind of warmed up being President of NPR for being President of Texas Public Radio, asked me."

He’s talking about Joyce Slocum—TPR’s Joyce Slocum--who used to run NPR.

"If Joyce were running Alaska Public Radio in the middle of February I would go there. But how nice it was Texas!" Simon says with a hearty laugh.

The guy you’ve learned to love on Saturday mornings is the same guy who showed up at the San Antonio Book Festival. And he was here to talk about his book, Unforgettable.

"The book is about the last days I spent with my mother in an intensive care unit of a hospital. And we review our life together as mother and son, and her life before I knew her."

The book’s origins are unusual. As he went through this end-of-life process with his mother, he took to Twitter to talk about it.

"That experience of the mother and son confronting the end together—I refuse to use the phrase went viral—I prefer to say takes digital wings. And that’s what happened."

Taking to Twitter seemed unusual to many. But soon most were singing his praises.

"And I think that for those people who read the book, I think they’ll understand that those tweets in no way violated my mother’s privacy or punctured her intimacy at a delicate time, or anything like that. All of that said, my mother was an old showgirl. She was not a shrinking violet; she loved to perform. And she gave an astonishingly great show for our family. And I’m glad I’ve been able to share it."

The tweets were often witticisms and bits of philosophy from his mother. And details. Lots of them. Simon’s level of candor was refreshing, and at times surprising.

"It’s a life. All details of a life end up being intimate. She was involved with a married man. As I write in the book, my mother was very popular with men."

But this is where Simon turns the unfair generalities of “the other woman” on its head. The relationship started when Simon was a young boy. But that boy was turning into a young man.

"As I grew older, I began to put two and two together. And my mother concluded that she was showing me all the wrong things about love. So she had to get out of the relationship; she kept trying, but they kept going back to each other. My mother and I talked about it in her last days, last hours really, and I saw no reason not to talk about it. My mother winds up being the hero of that story. She broke off from someone who on some level she really did love—for me. She wound up concluding that she had to get out of that relationship, not because it was hurting her, but because it would give me a twisted idea of what love looked like. I know it sounds strange, but in its own way the story of my mother and that married man winds up being a noble story about a mother who sacrifices for her son."

Unforgettable has been very well received, and is currently on the New York Times Best Seller list. Simon’s also recently taken to television—accepting a job at CBS Sunday Morning.

"It’s the classiest show on television. And when they came and said ‘we’d like you to do pieces’ I said yes immediately. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work different muscles than what I work weekly on NPR, which I think refreshes me on NPR, so yes, it’s great fun. I like doing it."

Simon married later in life, and ended up adopting daughters from China in 2004 and 2007.

"The first song that our girls learned to sing together was The Stars at Night [sic] and they still sing 'The stars at night are big and bright' (clap-clap-clap-clap) yeah, and that part too—they love Texas, and they’re a little jealous that I’m here without them. We love Texas."

And judging from the overflow crowd and reception at his San Antonio Book Festival presentation, the feeling is mutual. 
 
Read more about Scott Simon's Unforgettable here. Beow, read Scott Simon's Twitter thread from July, 2013.