Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

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Our book club got its formal start with the mocha and one of the most casual questions two people can ask each other: “What are you reading?” It’s something of a quaint question these days. More often in lulls of conversation people ask, “What movies have you seen?” or “Where are you going on vacation?” You can no longer assume, the way you could when I was growing up, that anyone is reading anything. - Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club (2012)

If you are searching for a way to connect with an aging parent (or child or grandchild), Will Schwalbe has the answer. 

His mother is dying of pancreatic cancer and he accompanies her to chemotherapy treatments.  The sardonic title of the book grew out of their book discussions at these treatments.  Schwalbe’s memoir is a touching tribute. 

Mary Anne Schwalbe, his mother, emerges as a strong-willed and dignified women. She was a co-founder of Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children.  Portions of the book highlight her on going struggle to build a library in Afghanistan as she battles terminal cancer.

Along the way, Mary Anne drop bits of wisdom:

“And I’m also talking about kindness, not just about being nice. You can be gruff or abrupt and still be kind. Kindness has much more to do with what you do than how you do it. And that’s why I didn’t have much sympathy for Hanna’s mother in People of the Book. She was a doctor and a mother and she wasn’t kind.”

The End of Your Life Book Club will make you want (and love) to read again.  Will and Mary Anne offer up a plethora of books to read – including People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks above.  Will, a former editor and chief at Hyperion book, and Mary Ann are unabashed book lovers.  Mary Ann:

“I love how Brooks shows that every great religion shares a love of books, of reading, of knowledge. The individual books may be different, but reverence for books is what we all have in common. Books are what bring all the different people in the novel together, Muslims and Jews and Christians. That’s why everyone in the book goes to such lengths to save this one book—one book stands for all books. When I think back on all the refugee camps I visited, all over the world, the people always asked for the same thing: books. Sometimes even before medicine or shelter—they wanted books for their children.”

Often when I ask folks what they are reading, I am told, “I do not have time to read” or “I don’t remember the last time I read a book.”  Now, after reading this book, my response will be, “Get with your parent, child, grandchild or loved one and read a book together. Will explains:

“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’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.”

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