Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

book review: the end of your life book club by will schwalbe THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB
by Will Schwalbe

Non-Fiction: Memoir
Knopf, October 2012
Hardcover, 326 pages
Source: Devourer of Books giveaway

When Will Schwalbe’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at a “treatable but not curable” stage, he began accompanying her to her chemo appointments. Spending hours together at a time, their conversations drifted naturally toward one of their favorite topics: books. Thus, the End of Your Life Book Club was formed.

Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne discussed the books they were reading in conversations that strayed beyond the pages and into more personal territory. In addition to the books, they talked about faith, courage, and learning to listen. In sharing their thoughts and insights, this son and mother grew to know each other better, and Will got to know Marry Anne in a new way.

“When I looked at Mom in that moment, I saw not a sick person, but not quite the same Mom I’d known all my life. After reading so much together in doctor’s offices, I felt I’d met a slightly different person, someone quirkier and funnier. I was going to miss my mother dreadfully but also miss this new person, too — miss getting to know her better.”

Although Mary Anne always read the endings of books first because she couldn’t wait to find out how things turned out, you don’t need to read the last few pages of this one to know how it ends — but it isn’t the ending of this book that matters. What’s important is everything in the middle: all of the time Will got to spend bonding with his mother during the last two years of her life.

Although The End of Your Life Book Club inevitably ends in death, it’s a celebration of a life well lived. Mary Anne Schwalbe dedicated her life to helping the oppressed and imperiled all around the world, from observing elections in the Balkans to hosting refugees for Thanksgiving dinner. Even during her final months, she worked as hard as she could to open a national library in Afghanistan. She raised a family, traveled the world, and gave so much of herself to the causes she supported. She lived a full live and made a difference in the lives of so many people, and this book is a lovely ode to the years she spent on this earth.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Although you might think a memoir about the author’s mother dying would be horribly depressing, I didn’t really find The End of Your Life Book Club to be too much of a downer. Of course it was very sad that Will’s mother was diagnosed with an incurable cancer, but I think the book focused more on the journey they took together through their reading and discussions than on the sadness of her impending death. I think this is kind of the point, that we are all going to die, but what matters in the end are the lessons we learned, the discussions we had, and the people we loved.

“Even though The Elegance of the Hedgehog leads to a death, the experience of reading the book is even more joyful than seeing a Romeo and Juliet where they both live. I asked Mom why she thought that was, and she pointed out that the joy is a product not of whether characters live or die, but of what they’ve realized and achieved, or how they are remembered.”

I definitely recommend this book. It appealed to me on many levels: my love of memoirs, my interest in travel and foreign countries (many of the books they read were about life in war-torn countries or written by refugees), and, of course, my love of books. There are great passages about why reading is important, the love of books as physical objects, and the different types of serendipities in bookstores. As an avid reader, I loved quotes such as, “Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.” I also really enjoyed reading their discussions of specific books, and I kept a post-it note in the back of my book to keep track of which ones I wanted to add to my TBR list. (Many, many books were added to that list with this reading.)

I found The End of Your Life Book Club to be a really enjoyable read about a man’s relationship with his mother, the beauty and importance of literature, and the value of discussing the important things with the ones you love.

“We’re all in the end-of-your-life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may be the last, each conversation the final one.”

I won a free copy of The End of Your Life Book Club from the Devourer of Books giveaway in exchange for signing up to participate in the Nov. 13th BOOK CLUB discussion of this book.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

  1. I enjoyed the book, but I also thought it was slow at points. I was distracted from the emotional aspects at times by all of the books they discussed, thinking about whether I should add them to my list or worrying if a book spoiler was going to be thrown in there.

    However, it did bring me to feel more family appreciation!

    • Hmm, I didn’t really notice “slow” points, perhaps because it’s not very plot driven.

      Ooh, the spoiler thing bothered me a little bit too — but he writes about so many books that I don’t think I could possibly remember any of the spoilers if/when I actually getting around to reading them.

      Agreed! It definitely made me reflect on my own relationships with my family members.

      • Maybe you’re right. . . the “slow” points were really the fact that I felt the plot wasn’t moving. I agree about the spoilers! I’m sure I wouldn’t remember any, but it still was scary as I read the book in fear of those potential spoilers! 🙂

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