"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe is the Book You Must Read!

The End of Your Life Book Club
Author:  Will Schwalbe
Published:  October 2012
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 329
Includes an appendix of the books discussed within this memoir
ISBN 9780307399663
Category:  memoir
Source:  borrowed

“What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less. 

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. 

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page." (from the publisher) 


"One of the many things I love about bound books is their physicality.  Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence.  Sure, sometimes they'll elude you by hiding in improbable places in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt.  But at other times they'll confront you, and you'll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn't thought about in weeks or years.  I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me.  They make me feel, but I can't feel them.  They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight.  They can get in your head but can't whack you upside it." (page 42-43, The End of Your Life Book Club)

Will Schwalbe is a book publisher and a son to a woman dying with cancer.  Beyond the mother son bonds of love and family, they share a love of books.  It is this love that bonds them through chemotherapy, bad times and good.  It is their little book club, consisting of two members, that helps them cope with illness and loss.

As we visit the hospital with Will and his mother, Mary Ann(e), we take part in Will's reminiscing of his youth.  Books have always been a part of his life.  Books were read at bedtime by both parents, with the children being allowed to select their own story with which to fall asleep.  While Will's brother loved the Chronicles of Narnia series, Will's own obsession was the land of Tolkien.  "And most of all I remember The Hobbit, the most phantasmagorical book I could ever imagine."  I had to look up that one!  (Phantasmagoria is currently in the top 20% of look ups on Merriam-Webster.com.)  

From reminiscing to discussions about modern literature to talks of Mary Anne's travels, we get to know Mary Anne as the fascinating woman who "smiles at strangers."  She had such a giving spirit, sought to make life better in disadvantaged countries, was shot at in Afghanistan, was a university teacher, an all round incredible woman.  Two thirds of the way through the book, I still had not shed a tear.

And then....the tears came as I closed the cover and held the book in my arms.  I have grown incredibly fond of this book and the lives within.  The End of Your Life Book Club is touching, thoughtful, inspirational and most definitely my favourite book of 2012.  If you are looking for a book that will touch your heart and soul and linger in your thoughts long after you closed the cover, this is the book for you.  Better still, give a copy to your loved ones.  It's just that good!

About Will Schwalbe:

Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing (most recently as senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books); digital media, as the founder and CEO of Cookstr.com; and as a journalist, writing for various publications including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post. He is on the boards of Yale University Press and the Kingsborough Community College Foundation. He is the coauthor, with David Shipley, of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.


  1. You may notice that Will's mother's name has two different spellings in this post. That is because for all her life she has spelled it Mary Anne but on legal documents it is Mary Ann. I intended to include this bit of information in the post but decided to add it more as a footnote here.

  2. Shirley, this one sounds like a good one for me. It'll go onto the tbr list. Hope the New Year is being good to you so far!

  3. Sounds wonderful...thanks for sharing.

    My featured book is SEVEN LOCKS.

    Stopping by from Carole's January Books I Loved. I am in that list as # 46.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

  4. Will Schwalbe is fantastic, as was his superlative mother! This book is different and insightful and not at all maudllin. If you're a reader, you will identify with them and will admire the way they related to each other, family and books through their difficult times.


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