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Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012: Tissues at the ready, I braced myself for The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe’s memoir of his mother’s death from pancreatic cancer. But Mary Anne Schwalbe is such a fierce, unsentimental heroine--and her son such a frank and funny storyteller--that what could have been an emotional roller coaster turns out to be a beautifully paced ride. Mary Anne loves a good book as ardently as she loves her kids and her causes, chief among them a campaign to build a library in Afghanistan. When her health starts to fail, Will joins her for hospital appointments. They wait, they talk, and they read together--everything they’ve ever wanted to discuss. As much an homage to literature as to the mother who shared it with him, Will’s chronicle of this heartrending time opens up his captivating family to the rest of us. We should all be so lucky as to read along with the Schwalbes. --Mia Lipman
For twenty-one years I worked in book publishing, mostly in editorial, acquiring the rights to manuscripts, working with authors to help shape their works, and trying to convince the world to pay attention to the various, wonderful books we were publishing. I learned from some of the all time great editors and publishers. But part of my publishing education went way, way back – to before I could read a word myself.
When I was a young child, before I went to sleep, my mother, like so many parents, would read me a book. My brother, eighteen months older, got his own book read to him. Later, my sister, four years younger, would have her own.
My mother was a working mother (a phrase she always disliked, as she rightly pointed out that no one talks of “working fathers”), so she wasn’t always home at night. She sometimes worked late, and she travelled for business, and, even when she and my dad were in town, they occasionally were out for dinner. But if she was home, she read us each a book before bed.
My early favorites included The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Harold and Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. I loved that there was a bull who liked to smell flowers and wouldn’t fight, and I was amazed by the boy who could draw himself out of any jam. But the experience was far more than the books themselves. First, there was the comfort and security of being tucked into bed. (Is it coincidence that we use the phrase “tuck into” before three of my favorite things: food, bed, and good books, or is it because the pleasures of each have so much in common?) Then, there was the happy, selfish knowledge that, when it was my turn, I would be able to monopolize my mother’s attention just by sitting and listening.
But what I remember most is the way Mom made us feel that she was sharing something she loved with us, not completing a chore or performing a ritual. (Though I’m sure there were many nights when she was exhausted and would have loved to be in bed herself and fast asleep.) And when we shared the books, we also shared discussions about them. Why didn’t the men understand that Ferdinand just didn’t want to fight? There’s no one answer, but it’s a question Mom and I explored together time and again.
Later, I would start to read to myself of course. But it was the nightly reading with Mom that helped me become a reader – and probably pushed me toward the career in book publishing. From Mom, I learned that there’s a public pleasure in books as well as a private one; that sharing books you love and getting others to read them can create a powerful bond, not just between a parent and child, but among thousands or millions of strangers.
“A graceful, affecting testament to a mother and a life well lived.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade A
“Schwalbe . . . highlights not just how relevant but how integral literature can be to life.” —The Washington Post
“[This] book is robust with love and laughter.” —Chicago Tribune
“Not only a son’s heartfelt tribute to [his mother’s] courage and grace but vivid testimony to the enduring power of books to create meaning out of chaos, illuminate values, and connect us with each other.” —The Boston Globe
“A loving celebration of a mother by a son.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A book that is expressly about books, about the purpose and pleasures of books, and the ways they connect us even as we read them as a solitary pursuit. . . . [It’s also] about, in part, the consolations we can find in art, books in particular, as we struggle to face the terrible awareness of our own mortality.” —The Plain Dealer
“Moving.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“An account of growing up in a bookish, artistic family, and a touching portrait of his energetic mother. . . . The [reading] choices that emerge are not a bucket list but an engagingly eclectic mixture of current and vintage, literary and commercial.” —The New Yorker
“Uplifting. . . . So much life is lived, and such powerful lessons are shared on this family’s journey that the reader can’t help but be moved and motivated.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Schwalbe’s enthusiasm turns out to be contagious. As I was reading I found myself scribbling titles on a piece of paper so that I could order the volumes he and his mother cared about. Schwalbe is not just an avid reader, he is also an advocate, a cheerleader, a disciple.” —Rachel Shteir, The New York Times
“A warm reminder why we read and what our reading says about us and the ways we connect with others.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“Completely engaging and difficult to put down. Hearing Schwalbe recount the effects that one selfless and loving person can have on the world is sad without being depressing, and deeply inspirational on a personal level to every imaginable reader.” —The Independent
“Touching and rigorously honest, this memoir is wise about the role reading plays in our lives and deaths.”—Slate
“The most moving memoir of the year.” —Sacramento Bee
“A tribute to a remarkable woman and an examplary reader.” —Salon
“A gentle, searingly moving memoir, at once a love letter and a generous, incisive set of instructions not about how to die but about how to live.” —More
Will and his Mom share a love of books and teach us all about life and death.
Will Schwalbe pays loving tribute to his mother, Mary Anne, and the books they shared in "The End of Your Life Book Club."
Book is very well written..really enjoy this authors writing style and transparency...writes how he thinks.
I wish I had not read it; Will Schwalbe should not have written it; to publicize those most intimate moments was a betrayal.Published 4 days ago by Bette Stoelzing
Well written, with a lot of interesting commentary on books and authors. Don't bother if you are not a regular reader of many different genres. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Thomas F. Masloski
What a terrific honor for his mother, a timeless gift to teach others of us how to better support our parents as they approach the end of their earthly lives. Read morePublished 8 days ago by chehalis bearcat
I read this book for our book circle. Great discussion and we all enjoyed it! It's a great staring point to find more books to read.Published 11 days ago by pinecats
I found the author of this book to be very self absorbed and pretentious. It was a book about other books. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Amy G Stovall
This book left me cold. It's a bragging fest about the author's highly accomplished, over-privileged family. I too endured a parent's slow death from cancer. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Pamela R Winnick
Having been a school librarian for 30 years, I was pleased to see that I had read some of the books the mother and her son read. Read morePublished 17 days ago by Cathy Klingler