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332 of 341 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Tribute to an Amazing Mother
This latest Amazon Vine read had me totally engrossed from its very beginning. Will Schwalbe's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer - Stage IV cancer that originated in the pancreas and metastasized. While juggling chemo treatments she continues to lead an active life, rarely slowing down for the side effects of her treatment. Although the Schwalbe family was...
Published 23 months ago by Tina Says

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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ummm..
I really wanted to love this book, but....the best I can say is that I finished it. I love books, I read ALL the time, but, Will, if I was in your book club discussing this book, here is what I would say: I had a very difficult time relating to the characters who really seemed preoccupied with their Ivy League educations, their status, their accomplishments, and their...
Published 16 months ago by Donna


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332 of 341 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Tribute to an Amazing Mother, July 28, 2012
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
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This latest Amazon Vine read had me totally engrossed from its very beginning. Will Schwalbe's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer - Stage IV cancer that originated in the pancreas and metastasized. While juggling chemo treatments she continues to lead an active life, rarely slowing down for the side effects of her treatment. Although the Schwalbe family was always a family of readers, it is the time Will and his mother spend together as she receives treatment that the two talk about books they read in the past as well as titles they agreed to now read together.
This is one of those books that made me want to highlight important points and be sure to make note of some aspects as I read. One of those is that although this book is about the books that Will and his mother read, it is also a memoir of sorts. Will's mother, Mary Ann, was an amazing woman. She worked outside the home before many other mothers did so and was a great fundraiser and humanitarian. Her most recent quest was building a library in Afghanistan. She was well traveled, volunteering in many dangerous locations, not afraid to get her hands dirty. The pride Will feels for his mother is evident, and I was also amazed by this woman's accomplishments.
Although I haven't read more than a few of the books that Schwalbe and his mother read and discuss, that did not detract from the pleasure of reading this book. If anything, it has caused me to add a few more titles to my ever-growing list.
Before you begin reading, it is evident that this will not be a happily ever after ending. Yet, The End of Your Life Book Club is not really a sad story. Will Schwalbe is able to show readers the impact of his mother's life. He was also able to show the real and lasting impact her reading had on her and her children and grandchildren. This is a beautiful tribute to the remarkable Mary Ann Schwalbe.
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178 of 186 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL!, August 24, 2012
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
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I usually avoid sad books like the plague- I'm a fairly sensitive person so I try to read things that won't devastate me and I despise authors that use difficult situations to either "sell" a story of manipulate the reader. However, I'm a huge huge fan of "project" books, and I love reading, so I figured I'd give "The End of Your Life Book Club" a try and stop reading if it got to be too much.

I honestly couldn't put it down- it's a really wonderful book.

The backstory is this: Will Schwalbe's mom, Mary, is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which (as the doctor says) is "treatable but not curable". Will vows to be as supportive to his mom as he can. But Mary isn't your typical middle-aged woman- this is a woman who has been on the frontlines of some of the most volatile areas on the earth, championing human rights, education, and literacy. She's also a sort of buttoned-up and reserved soul, not one to expound much on her feelings or emotions. She faces her illness with sort of a brisk honesty.

Will realizes that the best way he can support his mom, engage her, and open up the lines of communication is to share in one of Mary's passions- books. Will is a editor at a major publishing company, so he's quite a fan of books, as well.

So he and Mary begin sharing books, and every time the two see each other, they discuss the books they read. In the process, Mary begins to reveal more and more about not only her vast experiences, but also her emotions and her fears.

I've read quite a few "book project" books and many of them come across as an giant compiled Cliff's Notes of books that are read. Will Schwalbe handles the descriptions of the books wonderfully- he gives a brief description of the book, but instead of delving into the ins and outs of the books, he discusses *why* the particular book was relevant to both himself and his mom.

So while "The End of Your Life Book Club" is about books, it's really the story of Mary's life, Will's observations of his mother, and also the story of a mother and son sort of recommitting to their relationship through a shared passion.

I wish I could articulate just how wonderful this book is. It's just lovely. Yes, there is some sadness, but it's not "drawn out" or used for narrative kick. It's just honest and pure and the story comes from the heart without being trite or sentimental. I highly recommend it- it's easily one of the best books I've read in a long, long time.
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146 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey of Death and Reading, July 27, 2012
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Patricia (San Diego, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
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This book had me at the title: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Anything about reading books or about dying gets my attention - and this titled combined them! Be forewarned - this book is likely to cost you quite a bit of money. Not because of the price of the book but because you will pick up at least 8 to 10 "can't live without it" titles in it that you will HAVE to buy.

Often books about lists of books disappoint me but this one was definitely worth it. The author works in publishing, media and writing, so he knows books and literature. His mother, whom he adores, is dying of pancreatic cancer. She too was a voracious reader. They always exchanged books but in her illness they form a secret book club of two to discuss what they are reading during the long chemo sessions (he goes to most with her). Rest assured, she is not just some little wimp of a woman with cancer - she has a powerful resume: well educated, a working mother all her married life, was dean of admissions for Harvard and Radcliff, directed a number of exclusive schools and did massive (and I mean massive) humanitarian work. She lived in many places (London, Paris) and travelled the world for her causes: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa - lived in dangerous places to do her work. She was part of the founding of the IRC - International Rescue Committee (a favorite charity of mine), was shot at, starved, got all sorts of diseases from her travels but she was a survivor. Her final work was building a library with mobile units in Afghanistan. She travelled all over the US raising money and she worked on this project almost to her dying breath. And she raised a big family. And through all of this she read voraciously. The son, Will, finds it awkward to talk about emotional issues, as does his mother, so they do it through books. And what books - they seem to read everything and then share their insightful and profound discussions with us. She is a powerful, gracious woman and it is touching to watch her fade through the eyes of her broken-hearted son.

This is unbearably painful for him. He is obviously caring and gifted in many ways, and also tortured. He is plagued by insomnia and does much of his reading in the middle of the night - I don't know how he keeps going with so little sleep. And he is anxious about so many things in general, so this tragedy of his mother's illness hits him particularly hard. Fortunately they are both part of a big, warm family and that carries them through the whole way.

If you are a reader, I highly recommend this book - their combined insights are treasures that will keep you reflecting for a long time. Mary Anne Schwalbe was an amazing woman and we are blessed indeed that her son has shared her with us.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ummm.., March 11, 2013
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I really wanted to love this book, but....the best I can say is that I finished it. I love books, I read ALL the time, but, Will, if I was in your book club discussing this book, here is what I would say: I had a very difficult time relating to the characters who really seemed preoccupied with their Ivy League educations, their status, their accomplishments, and their "well known friends." For Mary Anne to say to Will, "if you don't like your job, just quit. You are lucky to have the means to do that," tells me a lot about the values of this family.
Yes, I admire Mary Anne's many accomplishments, but why did I get the feeling that Will was somewhat intimidated by his mother? Why did I feel annoyed with her controlling ways over her family and everybody else? Why did I feel shades of martyrdom and passive-aggressiveness in her interactions with her family and others?
Ah, me. So many five star reviews for this book. I ALMOST feel guilty writing this review. But I felt somewhat annoyed the whole way through. Maybe you have to know them to love them, but the author didn't make me love this family, or even like them very much.

..
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was deeply touched by Will's writing and believe that readers of this book will be as well, October 16, 2012
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Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB is several books in one. It is the memoir of an adult son, and a biography of his aging and terminally ill mother. It is also an unofficial guidebook on how to live well and die well, and a book that celebrates the written word.

The author, Will Schwalbe, grew up in a home where books were loved and appreciated. His mother read bedtime stories to all three children, a different story for each child. Both Mary Anne and her husband were avid readers, and they surrounded their offspring with books. It comes as no surprise, then, that Will spent over 20 years in the publishing industry. As the book begins, Mary Anne has been diagnosed recently with a stubborn form of hepatitis, but her symptoms, which mimic hepatitis, instead turn out to be advanced pancreatic cancer. The family is informed that the cancer is treatable but not curable. In other words, terminal. This unwelcome news is obviously difficult for everyone to absorb. The future quickly becomes a hazy question mark, full of worries and uncertainties, as the Schwalbe family adjusts to their new normal.

Mary Anne begins receiving outpatient chemotherapy at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Now she is spending hours upon hours attached to an IV drip as the toxic chemicals slowly enter her body. The doctors have promised that the chemotherapy will buy her some time, though how much time is uncertain. Will often accompanies Mary Anne to her lengthy and tiresome chemotherapy appointments, and a natural question --- What are you reading? --- becomes a source of poignant conversations between Will and Mary Anne.

Although the coffee and hot chocolate in the vending machine are unappealing, mother and son quickly learn that by selecting the mocha button, the resultant combination of both beverages makes a delicious drink; mocha becomes the beverage of choice for the pair. Soon Mary Anne and Will are swapping books and having lengthy philosophical conversations about recent reads. Mary Anne has a reading quirk. She always reads the ending of a book first because she cannot wait to learn what happens. Will can discuss any book that Mary Anne has not yet read without spoiling the ending because he knows she will read the ending first anyway. Through book discussions, they broach topics that might be too personal or painful otherwise. After reading THE ETIQUETTE OF ILLNESS: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words, by Susan Halpern, Will learns when to ask "How are you feeling?" and when to ask instead "Do you want me to ask you how you're feeling?"

After Mary Anne's diagnosis, her new mantra becomes: Make plans and cancel them. She does some traveling overseas while she is still able and spends hours on the phone and at meetings trying to arrange funding for a library in Kabul. She attends family dinners and continues to visit art museums and go to concerts whenever she can. Always in the back of her mind is the possibility that she might not feel well enough to participate in an event, but her strong will and determination keep her going, amazing and encouraging her family.

Although readers of THE LAST LECTURE may find some similarities to THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB, Will's book provides an in-depth look at a loving family supporting their beloved Mary Anne, a son's deep affection and abiding respect for his mother, and an appreciation for all things literary. I was deeply touched by Will's writing and believe that readers of this book will be as well.

Reviewed by Carole Turner
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91 of 111 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Journey of Deadly Reading, November 14, 2012
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This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
Like many of you, I was sold on the title. Halfway through the book, however, I found myself praying for that "sweet oblivion" as a welcome alternative to enduring the last half of the book. I expected to find insight into books,... into life...explored and delivered at a time when most people are wanting to squeeze as much substance and meaning into what little time they have left! Instead, there was a mere listing of books that the author and his mother read while waiting for medical care. There was no thoughtful analysis of the books, no profound insights into the meaning of life...just..."I can't believe I finally got through 1,500 pages of Thomas Mann!" and "Isn't my mother a terrific person?"...over and over, again! Perhaps, it gets really good at the end, but, honestly, this is not a book I would choose to read if I had three to six months left to live!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching and beautiful, July 31, 2012
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
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"We're all in the end-of-our-life book clubs, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read my well be the last, each conversation the final one."

Will Schwalbe has written a loving memoir of his conversations with his mother from the time she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer until her death. She survived for two years after her Stage IV diagnosis, which is nearly unheard of with this type of cancer. Both Will and his mother love books; he is actually a book editor. His mother was a pioneer for her gender, being the first female to hold her positions at Radcliffe and Harvard. She also traveled the world and was a passionate crusader for women's rights in countries like Afghanistan.

While Will accompanies his mother to her chemo appointments, they read books together and discuss them, forming their own two-person book club. Luckily for us, Will kept a list of those books and writes about the discussions they had about them. His mother knows that her time is short and while she wants to reread some of her favorite books, she also wants to explore new ones. However, she does not want to waste her time with frivolous, silly books. Humorous books are okay, but nothing just to pass the time.

Will includes a list of the books read at the back of the book for easy reference. Here are some of my favorite moments from the book:

*I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging, more dramatic, more relevant and better-told tales, but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor.
*I realized then that for all of us, part of the process of Mom's dying was mourning not just her death but also the death of our dream of things to come. You don't really lose the person who has been; you have all those memories...I was learning that when you're with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time.
*Mom pointed out to me a wonderful Shavian sentence in which he says that...regarding woman as the female of the human species, and not a different kind of animal with specific charms and specific imbecilities.

Highly recommend.
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104 of 128 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a book I would read if I knew I was near the end of MY life, December 20, 2012
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
First, let me begin by saying what I expected and hoped for from this book:
1) being an "end of your life" book club I expected to find a list of great, inspiring, life changing sort of books, with maybe a few quirky surprises thrown in. With little time left to live, I would expect the books you read to be chosen with great care - so many amazing books! So little time!
2) as a mother who loves reading with my young son, I was looking forward to a son's perspective of a close relationship with his mother, enhanced by a love of literature
3) having lost a parent to cancer, I was looking for insight as to how great books can provide solace and insight at such times - and afterall, this what the reviews promised!
4) an engaging literay style - this author has worked with books for years

What I actually found when readiing this was:
1) the books the Schwalbe's read are mostly not that great. Some I have read, others I have not but have no interest in reading - and would have far less interest if I only had months or years to live! Gunter Grass, Tin Drum, yes; William Golding, The Lord of the Flies, yes; but Alistair MacLean? No. The Girl with Dragon Tattoo? No. Had I skipped to the end like Will's mother I could have saved myself this disappointment. This is not a list for fans of great literature. Not saying the books aren't enjoyable, many just aren't what I would call "great" or even "bucket list" worthy.
2) the relationship Will has with his mother seems to evoke passionate response when it is criticized, but I have to say, I was massively disappointed in this regard. There seems to be a real distance between Will and his mother, talking about books does not deepen things, they just skim over the surface. I also feel there are unresolved issues here. The fact hat neither Will not his sister received unconditional love and support when coming out to their "liberal" parents I think is telling. I agree with another reviewer that everyone in the story is so busy being busy, yet they miss something important. Sometimes people who do great works for the world and community can leave the ones closest to them feeling isolated and alone. I think Will felt this and as a consequence the "insights" he and his mother share are don't seem to generate or reveal particular intimacy.
3) further to the above, Will feels very closed and shutdown to me through reading this. Even when he says he cries, I kind of don't believe it. I certainly don't feel it! This was a great let down, that even though I can tell Will was saddened by his mothers death, he never let himself feel it, and therefore I didn't either. When Mary, she who has down great works and inspired many people, finally departs, I expected to weep or at least feel a great pang of sorrow. Nada. I know this sounds cruel, but by the time I got to the end, I just didnt care. Which leads to my next point...
4) the writing is boring and lacks flair, depth or lightness. Will may have coped with the pain of his mother's pending death by detailing the minutea of hospital visits, but frankly, they are just tedious. Lists of medicines and procedures peppered with book discussions. But very little about feeling, about looking back or looking forward, which we all do at some point when confronted with death. I ended up reading fast to get to the end so I could at least finish it.

In all, I don't think I could ever be as disappointed with this book as Will felt he was to Mary Anne, nor as let down as he was by her. I don't think it is cynical to suggest this book had a helping start in life by Will's book world connections, and Mary Anne's considerable reach of friends, colleagues and people she has helped. But listing books and writing about cancer is not enough to make a book meaningful. I am sad for Will, I hope finds the love he was seeking with his partner, and I hope his books and other work help him feel like he can finally step out of his mother's shadow.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to his mom, August 15, 2012
By 
S.E. Poza (Rimersburg, PA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
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As someone who has operated in the literary world for quite some time and who has been a life-long reader, Will Schwalbe knows how to write a good book. The structure and pacing of what is essentially an homage to his remarkable mother is very, very good. The reader is carried along through a series of shared stories from books he and his mother have both read as well as anecdotes and information about Mr. Schwalbe's mother. Mary Ann Schwalbe did a lot of good work in her life for charities, seems to have raised her children well, and operated based on a lot of high principles. Through this book, we learn that she was a stellar person who was self-possessed and did her best to be kind and attentive to every person who crossed her path. This is great as a tribute to ones mother, but, in the end, I was left feeling that either big pieces of the story were intentionally left out, or Mr. Schwalbe didn't know his mother well enough to give a more rounded story.

Characters are interesting when they have depth, and though Mary Ann was a real person and not a fictional character, she was human and is portrayed as too good. There are long quotes of little lectures on being a good person and good living which were certainly reconstructions of how Mr. Schwalbe wanted his mother to sound (as I doubt he had a tape recorder or took dictation). Mary Ann leads by example by doing copious amounts of charity work. She is a refined and seemingly lovely lady and all of this is relayed well, but I would have liked to have seen more depth through her weaknesses to humanize her. His desire to paint only the positive in his dying mom is understandable, even laudable, but it leaves the reader not inspired by her example, but with the feeling that this paragon of humanity is one few others will ever live up to.

This is a good book with solid writing and will encourage people to read a lot of other books that are mentioned throughout. In the end though, I felt a bit short-changed on the story of Mary Ann. That is not to say I wouldn't recommend reading it, I would, but not in any way because it will help you understand or deal with a family member dying of cancer. Chances are that real people die with a lot less dignity and composure (and a lot more anger) than Mary Ann Schwalbe does in this book.
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70 of 86 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tried to like it but couldn't, October 25, 2012
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This review is from: The End of Your Life Book Club (Hardcover)
I truly wanted to like this book but could not for several reasons. The story itself was about the author's relationship with his mother, their experiences past and present, their interactions with other characters, their life's work, and of course, their book club books. I loved the books that the author and his mother read, having read many of them myself, but was disappointed that each of them was condensed and applied to the mother/son relationship in only a few sentences. Which brings me to the bottom line: The book felt frenetic, like it was trying to accomplish too much while missing something very important, much like the lives of the main characters.

Perhaps that is the reason I had such difficulty relating to the author and his mother; the mother's life seemed like a race to control, not understand (accept?) those around her while accomplishing her life work. Much of the author's commentary on this read like preoccupation; even though he was working frenetically, perhaps his life work was not important like his mother's; even though he tried to help others, he fell short where his mother never failed. This tone was underscored by a palpable persistent doubt regarding real love among members of the main characters' family who were seemingly praised for their deeds and not so much their selves.

Finally, I struggled with what I saw as unnecessary name dropping by the author, alerting the reader to his and his mother's importance. In short, even though the book was based on a beautiful idea and is ostensibly a tribute, it felt more like a catharsis of mixed emotions about a controlling and very busy mother. My sentiments are very unpopular because as I said earlier, the mother's work was very valid and very necessary.
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The End of Your Life Book Club
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (Hardcover - October 2, 2012)
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