Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007. By the end of that year, Will met his mother regularly at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. While she underwent her chemo, they talked. And, one day in November, they began their book club when he asked, "What are you reading?" She was reading Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, a book with a woman dying. That book allowed mother and son to bridge a gap when she referred to a character in the book, saying he would be alright after his wife's death. Schwalbe says, "The novel gave us a way to discuss some of the things she was facing and some of the things I was facing." And, he continues, "Books had always been a way for my mother and me to introduce and explore topics that concerned us but made us uneasy, and they had always given us something to talk about when we were stressed or anxious."
Will's mother was a remarkable woman, a woman who had traveled and worked all over the world, helping students, then refugees. She worked in war-torn countries, and was determined to raise the money to build a library in Afghanistan. And, she was misdiagnosed with hepatitis when she first returned from a trip to that country. After months of feeling tired, pancreatic cancer was finally diagnosed.
In the course of Mary Anne Schwalbe's last two years, mother and son must have read at least 150 books. There's an extensive list at the end, and so much of the book consists of those book discussions. The book itself becomes a book discussion, as well as a discussion of life and death. Any reader of serious fiction and nonfiction will appreciate the conversations about literature and life. And, I know I'm not doing justice to the brilliant woman whose strength shines on these pages.
Will Schwalbe brings his mother to life again through the books she loved, and the storied life she led. And books challenged her and comforted her to the end. "Books focused her mind, calmed her, took her outside of herself." Schwalbe knows how fortunate he was to have those two years with his mother, since so many people die quickly from pancreatic cancer. However, The End of Your Life Book Club isn't about death. It's about a mother and son sharing their lives and beliefs through their conversations about books. And, it's about a realization that readers everywhere will appreciate. "Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying."
Will Schwalbe's website is www.theendofyourlifebookclub.com
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Alfred A. Knopf. 2012. ISBN 9780307399663 (hardcover), 336p.
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book