- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307739783
- ISBN-13: 978-0307739780
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,540 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The End of Your Life Book Club Paperback – June 4, 2013
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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 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
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Top customer reviews
The story is very sensitive. The author discusses many of the issues involved in end of life care. Seemingly simple questions, such as how one is feeling right now are evaluated. I found this personally valuable as I tend to be socially inept. The writing is of a modern style and flows easily. I listened it the book on audiobook while reading at the same time. The book would in most ways be an "easy listen" without contemporaneous visual reading except there are a lot of foreign names and locations mentioned.
The author's mother had spent her life in various international projects and dealing with issues such as refugees, among other things. The author provided a good deal of information about many of these projects and issues, that I found very educational.
As I anticipated, there was also a good deal of discussion about literature. As a lifelong reader, I am always interested in evaluating and comparing my reading experience and interests with others. I will tell you I learned a good deal about a good many authors and works with which I was not heretofore familiar. I purchased several works based on the literature discussed in this work. Coincidentally I am reading the works of Herman Wouk in chronological order. I had actually recently decided to skip a novel, "Marjorie Morningstar". I had never heard anyone discuss that book, ever.... Then that book came up in this work. I have changed my mind and purchased it and it is my next Herman Wouk book that I am going to read, although not immediately.
In summary, I found he book to be very illuminating and educational while being very warm and sensitive. I enjoyed it very much and am very glad I had a chance to read it.
Boy--am I glad I did.
The End of Your Life Book Club begins like a memoir about cancer, but fairly quickly, it lets you in on the fact that this is really a story about a remarkable life. One of the joys in this book is getting to know his formidable Mary Anne Schwalbe--a woman who accomplished and experienced more in her lifetime than most. For indeed, Mary Anne Schwalbe led both an enviable and remarkable life of public service and accomplishments all the while raising her family that includes equally accomplished children and grandchildren. Brilliantly, Mr. Schwalbe doesn't go there on page one. Instead, he introducers her in pieces. At the beginning of the book, you see her through his lens: a spry, elderly and over involved mama. You end the book wanting to give Mrs. Schwalbe a standing ovation of the type of life she led and it is a feat of writing that this is revealed slowly, versus the tomes that are read, and the anectodes he shares.
A person that productive and that effective is bound to be able to teach a lot of life lessons and I did find myself highlighting all kinds of little nuggets of wisdoms. The book is highly quotable as Mr. Schwalbe's (using his mother's voice) puts forth beautiful turns of phrases and incredibly lyrical passages.
The love affair with books will likely impact my view on reading for the rest of my life. Truly--this book made me think and feel differently about the activity of reading--more of an active pursuit as opposed to the passive reception of information. Indeed, walked away with a reading list--especially since at the beginning we learn that Mrs. Schwalbe's favorite books were mine as well: John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Thus we learn this is a woman who both likes to read and who loves great stories, all in the midst of the ending of her particular tale. The obvious connection between the author and his mother tugs at the heart throughout and especially in a very touching scene towards the end of the book when he begins to face what he will be missing once she is gone.
Here is what I did not like....or rather the reservations I would feel recommending this book to a friend.
For one--the Schwalbe family's patrician lifestyle is not particularly relatable to the average reader. For example--not many of us have friends who will casually drop a million dollar contribution for our charity on a whim nor do we have the means to start a charity that funds a library system in Kabul. Had Mr. Schwalbe addressed this nuance up front, I might have been more apt to give this book a rating of five. However--his assumption that we would either "get it" or perhaps just understand that a card-carrying WASP, "we just don't talk about it" fell short. It needed to be addressed. How can we absorb the simple life lessons all the while noting the immeasurable differences in our manners of living?
Similarly, Mrs. Schwalbe has two gay children: Mr. Schwalbe and his sister. I speak both as a mother and a fervent supporter of gay rights in saying this, but I found it discomfiting that her reaction to both children coming out was never discussed. Don't get me wrong--it was refreshing to have it seem like a non issue, but it was not exactly presented by an objective third party. Even if he had spent ONE paragraph on this, it would have been illuminating. After all, no matter how progressive Mrs. Schwalbe appears to be, she is still a product of her era where a gay son and a gay daughter must have at least given her one moment of pause. Again--a paragraph could have addressed our curiosity and could have informed the rest of us how to make the non-issue it needs to be.....
In the end, this is still a wonderful read and the two minor issues should not prevent a serious reader from this wonderful book. I am privileged for having met Mrs. Schwalbe, albeit in a literary setting, and I walked away inspired with my own life and eager to read some of the books in the club.