Saturday, July 27, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

When I saw the first mention of this book in a review last year it sounded like something I wanted to read; although I mentioned it to my local book club twice, they were not interested.  When I saw it newly released June 2013  in the First Vintage Books Edition, paperback,  I scanned it in the store and picked it up immediately.  I adored this book for so many reasons, first very well written by this new author who is no stranger to literature and the publishing world; second the tale is heart touching of an adult son  accompanying his mother who has terminal pancreatic cancer to  her chemo treatments  at Sloan Kettering; third, it is really about books, their lessons and the characters. It is a keeper in my home library as a reference when I want something different or new to me to read.  I was about to make a list of all the books and authors  he and his mother were reading and discussing when I found the author was astute and  made such a reference of each book mentioned in the Appendix.  Their first book, "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner, is new to me but was first published in 1987 and I related to Will immediately when he wrote on Page 5, after Mom recommends he read it,  "..I have a copy...which was in fact true.  There are certain books that I mean to read and keep stacked by my bedside.  I even take them on trips.  Some of my books should be awarded their own frequent flier miles, they've traveled so much.  I take these volumes on flight after flight with the best of intentions and then wind up reading anything and everything else, SkyMall, ..."  Oh he is clever in describing traits and activities we book or reading addicts all share.  In my career days I always traveled with a book.  Today in our motor coach I always have a book to read but there are a few out there that have traveled the country without my opening them.  

Both Will and his mother are inveterate readers; his career in publishing and as a journalist affords him immediate
access to new books, but their tastes range from old to new, novels, to memoirs. On page 7,  "We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it the opposite of dying."  I gained an appreciation of novels and learned that I do not miss out by reading fiction,  that non-fiction is not the only way we can learn.  This book about books and what they teach us ends with  the fact that the characters and people and the connections we can make through books is vital.   


As the book begins, Mary Anne Schwalbe 73 years old has been an active person in her own career and in working with and for refugees through the International Rescue Committee. She is an inspiring lady whose last major achievement was to build a library in Kabul Afghanistan.  She had traveled the world and  was deeply involved and caring keeping in touch with former students, and friends through out her life. This memoir is a  testament to her through the eyes of her son, Will but it also describes his journey with her illness and touches briefly on how the rest of the family copes although in his introduction he claims this is his story and they (his father , brother and sister) have their own stories to tell "if and when they choose."  He does not document the family through his own opinion, but shares a personal view.  I enjoyed that  rather than his opinion extending to others actions, he sticks to himself.  

There is mention about the difference between books Mary Anne says he "must read" compared to those she merely wants him to read. as well as physical books vs. e-books on Pgs 42-43.  Mary Anne is a unique person for always feeling lucky and always seeing the best in every person and situation.  He  is blessed to have been her son.  I share the perspective about gratitude and writing prompt thank you notes on page 211.    

I could go on and on about this book, but really, if you are a reader and enjoy books, this is one you must read.   This is a fast read at only 326 pages.  A 5 ***** and  a keeper for me.