The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

By Kathleen Pohlig

book coverThis book is about the author’s special relationship with his mother, Mary Anne, and the time they spent discussing books after she was diagnosed with and being treated for pancreatic cancer. The reader knows from the start that Mary Anne will die, and while it is a story about death, it is mostly a celebration of life and how books can enrich it.
Mother and son had always been very close and books were a big part of their lives. Will spent much of his career in the publishing industry, most recently as senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books.
Mary Anne had worked as the admissions director for Harvard University and later established an organization to help refugees, especially women and children.
She travelled to Afghanistan and other dangerous places around the world without regard for her own safety and helped refugees come to America for an education and a chance for a better life.
A kind, generous and wise woman, she raised three talented children and was beloved by her family and others in her wide sphere of influence and friendship.
While reading the book, there were many times I thought I should stop and mark a passage I particularly liked or make note of a book title they were discussing. I didn’t stop; the story just kept me moving along. It may take a second reading to find all of the little gems again. Luckily, there is a list of all the books mentioned in the text at the end of the book.
It all started with a common question from Will to his mom while they were waiting in a doctor’s office: “What are you reading?”
It evolved into a two-person book club as they recommended books to each other or re-read books they had loved in the past.
The books they shared allowed them to speak about difficult subjects, get to know each other in a new way and examine tough ideas and questions about life and death.
Mary Anne told her son, “That’s one of the things books do. They help us to talk. But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don’t want to talk about ourselves.”
Words on the back of the book sum it up nicely: “Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne – and we, their fellow readers – are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us. A profoundly moving memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love – The End of Your Life Book Club is also about the joy of reading, and the ways that joy is multiplied when we share it with others.”
Well said. I highly recommend this title for individual reading or for discussion with family or book club friends.

Kathleen Pohlig is owner of Cherry Street Books in Alexandria.

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