Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by William Schwalbe

As they sat in waiting rooms, early for medical appointments, William Schwabe and his mother Mary Anne Schwalbe more often than not found themselves discussing books. His mother, a former school teacher and once head of admissions to Harvard University, had raised William with books, and he had become an editor with a major book publisher. He sometimes got advance review copies for his mother, who had been diagnosed to have pancreatic cancer. At some point they realized that thanks to the many medical appointments, they had formed a small book club, thus the title of William's book, The End of Your Life Book Club.

The list of books that the mother and son club read is quite inspiring for someone with a like mind to read. According to Listopia in GoodReads, there are 107 titles at least mentioned. Some of these are used as chapter title's in William's book. There are fiction classics, literary novels, history, memoirs, and spiritual meditations. In view of Mary Ann's condition and religious faith, books like The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott are to be expected. A few, however, are titles that I would never consider reading with my mom, including Continental Drift by Russell Banks and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

As you read, you realize that Mary Anne was a most impressive humanitarian. After retiring from school administration, she devoted her life to refugees, spending years in places like Bosnia, Darfur, and Afghanistan. Her passion was aid, protection, and civil rights for women and children.

Besides the book discussions, what I love about The End of Your Life Book Club is William's recounting a very warm and respectful family relationship. So many families in recent memoirs are dysfunctional. Mother and son disagree about religion, but they allow each his or her own opinion. I also like that William did not initiate the memoir on day one of his mother's diagnosis. He tells an honest every day story, not one set up in advance for the sake of writing a book. He says that he only had the idea for this book after many of the events had passed.

I think I have much to learn from The End of Your Life Book Club. I intend to read it again.

Schwalbe, William. The End of Your Life Book Club. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 336 p. ISBN 9780307594037.

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