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The End of Your Life Book Club Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 2, 2012
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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
Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Will Schwalbe
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 wonderful book about wonderful books and mothers and sons and the enduring braid between them. Like the printed volumes it celebrates, this story will stay with you long after the last page.”
--Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Time Keeper
“Will Schwalbe’s lyrical tribute to a life well-lived and a death graced with love and literature is a precious gift bestowed on all of us. What a unique and beautiful book this is, and how privileged we are to have it.”
--Sherwin B. Nuland, author of The Art of Aging and How We Die
“With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work.”
--Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Will Schwalbe’s brave and soulful elegy to his remarkable mother, his recollection of their sparklingly literate conversations, is a timely reminder that one exceptional person, or one exceptional book, can be a torch in the darkness. You’ll turn the last page wishing you’d met Mary Anne Schwalbe, vowing to be worthy of her incandescent example—and promising yourself to read more.”
--J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar
“Will Schwalbe gives us two love stories in one: that of his relationship with his dynamo of a mother as her horizons shrink, and that of their mutual devotion to the printed word, infinitely and insistently engaging. Tender and touching and beautifully done.”
--Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra
“This touching and insightful memoir [will] appeal to readers of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture, but also to people who love delving into books and book discussions . . . While it is a story about death, it is mostly a celebration of life and of the way books can enrich it.”
“I was so moved by this marvelous book. Schwalbe has done something extraordinary: made a personal journey public in the most engaging, funny and revealing way possible. It is a true meditation on what books can do.”
--Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes
“In a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Schwalbe illustrates the power of the written word to expand our knowledge of ourselves and others.”
“At last a book that celebrates the role books play within our own story. Will Schwalbe has created a tender, moving and honest portrayal of the precious relationship between a mother and son—an ode to that beautiful thing called love.”
--Cecelia Ahern, author of PS, I Love You
“This book is a passionate, purposeful and elegant guide to human existence. Living life, learning life and loving life. And ultimately, accepting life’s end. Mary Anne and Will have given us an exquisite gift. For a better life, better family and better world, read this moving elegy from a gifted and loving son to an extraordinary mother”
--David Rohde, coauthor of A Rope and a Prayer
“An extraordinarily wise, witty, and quietly wrenching book about parental love, filial love, profound grief, and literature’s great consolations. How wonderful to encounter a writer who combines erudition with great emotional honesty, and who isn’t afraid of addressing life’s most profound and baffling questions.”
--Douglas Kennedy, The Woman in the Fifth
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Exactly what I needed. Going through a similar situation and this book truly lifted me up. Well written, beautiful tribute and a treasure for any book lover.Published 7 days ago by R Sweeting
In rating this book, I vacillated between okay and like. Overall I liked the story. I had to work a little at dismissing the wealth of this family but the mother's charity work... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Carolyn Dargevics
I laughed, I cried and I remembered some of the books he mentions in the course of the book. The author made me remember how important books are to us. Read it! Read morePublished 23 days ago by Laura S
True store that many may be able to relate to. Especially if a family member has gone through stressful cancer treatments. Read morePublished 27 days ago by Christena Hauser
This was such a lovely book! I didn't realize it actually follows the author's experience with his mother. I really loved it. Read morePublished 1 month ago by janellen