“Of course the book club also gave us a welter of great books to read- books to savor and ponder, to enjoy, and to help Mom on her journey toward death and me on mine to life without her.”
This is one of those books that I stumbled on, initially as a gift for another, but which found its way back to me and for that I think I will be eternally grateful for. It came to me during a stage of my life that can be reflected directly to the very events on the book’s pages and which provoked sorrow but also gave a sense of relief. If I ever believed in fate, then I think it might be safe to say that fate put this book in my hands.
I initially purchased The End of Your Life Book Club as a Christmas gift for my mother in November 2012, knowing little of the story itself but as it was the Spotlight pick for Chapters a few months prior and hearing that it was a touching read by some fellow employees, I decided it would be the kind of book my mom would enjoy. After reading it herself, my mom quickly gave it to me and insisted I read it. It sat on my shelf for a week or so, but when I began it I could not put it down. The book (which is biographical in nature) is written by Will Schwalbe and is about the journey he, his mother and his family make when his mother, Mary Ann, learns she has pancreatic cancer. With the many doctor appointments and chemo sessions that come, Mary Ann and Will commence a book club of sorts, though it is not named as such for some time, reading the same books and discussing how they related to their own lives and experiences, or how they were unexpected or even disliked.
While the book centers on Mary Ann’s struggle with her cancer (one which causes the patient to deteriorate incredibly quickly and is rarely curable), it also celebrates the life she lived, the family she created and many of the incredible things she achieved. The book subtly conveys the need for positive action; the need to help others who are far less fortunate, acts of bravery that rarely go acknowledged, the affect that little acts of kindness can have. These are reflected both in the acts of the Schwalbe family, but also in Mary Ann’s own life and the admirable work she performed in many third world countries, and for refugees and women’s groups around the globe. There is no denying she was an amazing woman, commendable for her courage, but even more so for her kindness.
The discussion of literature was one of the main reasons why I purchased this book for my mom; the fact that it was a book about books. Will and his mother obviously valued the comfort and creativeness that books could offer, a bond that I too share with my mother, for she was always the one who encouraged me to read as much as I could. While many of the novels discussed in The End of Your Life Book Club were written before my time or are books that I have not yet read (the exception being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which any respectable reader should get their hands on), I could still appreciate the discussions concerning the characters and plots and struggles of those books, how they affected Will and Mary Ann, or caused them to remember something from their own lives. In many ways it allows for the reader to reflect on their own reasons for reading, and how much reading means to them on a personal level, whether it is to escape into another world, to find comfort or knowledge, or for so many of the other reasons that causes one to reach for a book.
Many of the reviews that I read concerning The End of Your Life Book Club voiced that while the book was touching, the reader could not relate. I believe it’s one of those books that anyone could enjoy, but particularly anyone who is fighting or has a family member who is fighting a battle against cancer. I have a family member who is facing the exact same kind of cancer at the moment. He has been there my whole life, has influenced me in ways that can never be counted or truly recognized, and watching his struggle has been difficult. So many of the experiences that Mary Ann endured medically, I have witnessed in person as well. The very night after I finished The End of Your Life Book Club I found out my uncle was in the hospital because, like Mary Ann, he was having an increasingly hard time eating. It was beyond comforting to read someone else’s experiences and to see how Mary Ann herself dealt with the reality of her illness. For that, I can never thank Mr. Schwalbe enough, for having the bravery to tell this story and to help many others, like me, without maybe even truly meaning to.
The End of Your Life Book Club was not what I expected to find when I opened the cover and turned to the first page but it ended up being something I needed without knowing it. It touched me on a level that few books have, mostly because of my own personal circumstances at the moment. It is a comforting and inspiring read for anyone who has been or is currently dealing with the changes that cancer causes, both physically and emotionally. Above anything else, it can truly be recognized as a son’s memorial for a wonderful mother, that focuses not on her passing but on the life she led and the books she valued during that remarkable life.
Devon – athousandbooklife
Other books by Will Schwalbe: Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better (2010)