Monday, November 5, 2012

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


When I sat down with this book, I braced myself with tissues and prepared for a teary read. Instead, I was surprised to find that this book was emotional, yes, but also funny and delightful in so many ways. Will and his mother, Mary Anne, are the two members of this book club that they create as a way of dealing with her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Over two years, they read a huge range of books and are bonded by their passion for reading and their love for each other. Mary Anne boldly faces her imminent death, and this book club helps her son to deal with it as well. This is a story about a mother and her son, a toast to a full life, and the tale of a journey that will stay with you beyond the final pages of this book.

This book is an autobiographical memoir, and it reads like a novel in parts and a love letter from a son to his mother in other parts. Mary Anne is an extraordinary woman - she is well traveled, intelligent and incredibly giving. It's clear that her son is in awe of her. This respect and love is what makes this book so bittersweet. Some of the books Will and Mary Anne read directly deal with topics like cancer and death, such as Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, but others are mysteries, like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. All of the books they read help Will and Mary Anne discover a piece of the puzzle that will make the end of Mary Anne's life complete. Together, they cover topics like religion, kindness, fate and fortune. All the while, they are able to connect with each other and talk about dealth in a way that comes naturally to them. I found myself wanting to be a part of this book club and I made a mental note to read many of the books I have not yet read...

As a passionate reader myself, I love how this book explored what novels can mean to people and their relationships. At first, it may seem like reading books is not the best way to spend the end of your life. However, it is through reading these books together, that this mother and son duo are able to delve into a journey that is satisfying, defining and helps them cope with what is to come. As Schwalbe tells us, "reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying."

While parts of The End of Your Life Book Club were hard to read, especially as a mother and as a daughter, this book was more uplifting than I expected, and written beautifully. In the end, this is the celebration of Mary Anne's life, and of a son's love for his brave and wonderful mother.

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