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The End of Your Life Book Club
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on January 31, 2017
The End of Your Life Book Club was not only well written but thought provoking in many ways. Although none of us like to think about the inevitable death of a loved one (or our own), we know those times are going to come. The book was insightful in learning things to say and do, as well as what NOT to say and do for a person who is dying. It also shows how important faith, family and friends are to the person who is suffering an incurable disease. Because I am a reader who panics when I am almost finished with a really good book, The End of Life Book Club also gave me many new books I would like to read. When my time comes to leave this life, I pray that I will be as positive and brave as the amazing woman featured in this story!
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on June 9, 2015
The bond between the author and his mother is strong and becomes stronger as she is dying of pancreatic cancer. Reading and discussing books, thus the title of this book, becomes a constant as they travel this journey of her departure. The author's mother was a remarkable woman, she lived her life to the fullest every possible moment. So many positive, and worthwhile, reviews have been written about this book, I don't know what I can add. The negative from reviewers seem to focus on the families wealth and upper class lifestyle which seems a shame as this woman labored tirelessly to make the world of refugees a better place. She didn't seem to neglect her family or herself while helping others. She lived as she believed. The author shared his heart and by doing so, honored the legacy of his mother. Well done.
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on March 24, 2017
I truly loved this book. It was inspiring and uplifting. He writes about his mother with such respect and love. That in itself made it a poignant joy to read. The other wonderful thing is all the book recommendations. I think I have ordered a dozen new books since I started reading it. Some like 'Crossing to Safety' I have been meaning to read for a few years. Suddenly I'm obsessed with reading again. It's a book I'm grateful for.
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VINE VOICEon January 1, 2014
Will Schwalbe's book starts out strong; the book is a paean and a celebration of the unique mother-son bond amidst the backdrop of a lifelong mutual love of books. Will, a former book editor, lives and breathes books, a trait no doubt enhanced by his mother's bibliophile tendencies. His writing is strong and clear at the beginning, but lacks a cohesive strength and has very little personal insight; the book becomes more observational and factual which left me a bit cold. His urgency to share and discuss the books they read is brought about by his mother's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Medical treatments, diagnosis, family, and books form the crux of this work. Yet, I strangely felt that something was missing, and I believe it was the author's unwillingness to get "too personal." Facts, dates, and timelines create a narrative, but I found myself skipping sections of the book because I felt like screaming, "Will, do you have a POINT?" Despite the meandering paths amidst an admirable effort to paint us a portrait of his mother, the book has charm and warmth. I laughed out loud at several of his personal reminiscences, including one where his mother mixed up their dog's de-worming medicine and her birth control pills in the 1960's, illustrating the multitasking challenges facing a mom, wife, and career woman. I would have loved a few more of those vignettes. Its biggest downfall might be the lack of relatability and Will's tendency to name-drop and bask in the reflected glory of Ivy League intelligentsia. Frequent allusions to his family's relatively privileged East Coast background drag the book down and make many of the themes and situations inaccessible to the common man. For all his mother's privilege combined with altruism, she was not immune to what we will all face one day- death. Her dignity in the face of a brutal illness, and commitment to her family and strong values, is what I will remember most fondly from this book, and for that, Will deserves applause. In the end, books take a backseat to Will's adoration of his mother, a singular woman of character whose life has much to teach us. Will has also taught us and expressed the value of "just being there" for an ill loved one in a very wonderful way.
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on November 19, 2016
This was a good read. Even though you know the ending right from the beginning (fitting, given that the author's mother always read the end of a book first), you are drawn into the book discussions along with the two-year journey mother and son experience. The author's description of events was clear, compasionate, personal, and yet didn't violate his mother's privacy. I was pleased to find a list of all the books discussed in their book club at the end of this book, as I am intrigued by some and wanted to be able to find titles and authors so I could read them.
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on August 11, 2017
A moving true story of the relationship between a grown son and his mother who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. How do you deal with end of life struggles, the heartbreak of saying "goodbye", keeping your loved one comfortable, and making choices of activities and unfinished business wanting to be accomplished before moving into the "new life"? Reading books was a great way of connecting on a deeper level and exploring topics and ideas that would have remained a mystery between mother and son. Most comforting was Mary Ann's faith and her hope that Will would connect with God and develop a spiritual life that was so important to her. Definitely worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon November 8, 2012
The title of my review, from a testimonial to Mary Anne Schwalbe by a friend of 50 years, describes this wonderful book beautifully. Among the best things she would have had to look no further than her own family, her son Will in particular. Will was the other half of a 2-person book club with his Mom developed during his accompanying her to chemo therapies and hospital visits as she was dying of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Together they embody the truth about books -- about how books teach so much about, well, everything. His small video on the amazon page made me love him and by projection his mother even more. The Schwalbe family is the complete opposite of dysfunctional. They are thriving, contributory, talented, supportive, and it is remarkable that all this was accomplished with a mother who was away a good portion of the time doing remarkable, selfless work around the globe, venturing into refugee camps fearlessly and even at the end of her life overseeing what she perceived as the culmination of her astounding life -- establishment of a library in Afghanistan. Each book that Mary Anne and Will read and discuss is brought further to life for me as I had read most of their choices, but what they would extract would heighten my memory of (say, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) exponentially. Yes this is a sad book since the reader knows the final outcome, but the positives greatly outweigh that sadness, and three years after her death, Mary Anne has attained a new admirer.
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on January 8, 2013
Watching a parent's gradual decline and death to pancreatic cancer is certainly a somber subject, but somehow Will Schwalbe's story of his mother's last two years in THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB becomes more of a celebration and a tribute than you would have thought possible. You end up almost envying the author for the special close relationship he shared with his mother, a well-known and much-loved champion of causes.

Schwalbe is a very talented writer, and his approach to telling the story of his mother's final weeks, months and years is unique. He describes how they formed a book club of two and discussed their literary choices whenever they could, but mostly while his mother was being infused with toxic chemo treatments or waiting to see her doctors. Always close, the two became even closer as they used their mutual love of good books to learn more about the world, themselves and each other.

While I might have wished for more details about the author's own life and the rest of his family, I had to admire how he kept to his own clearly defined focus - the importance books and reading had always held in his family. This made their story unique, even as the discussions of books and writing allowed you ever deeper into their system of beliefs and ideals. The author's sexual orientation - he is openly gay - is not avoided but it is not emphasized either. Even that aspect of their story is elucidated through books, as Will tells of discovering the books of Christopher Isherwood during his college years.

At first I found the 'books' aspect of the story more interesting than that of Will and his mother. (Indeed, the literary allusions are scattered everywhere and many of the books are discussed at some length, and there is a bibliography at the end of the book.) But I quickly found myself wanting to learn more about the life of Mary Ann Schwalbe, a truly remarkable and one-of-a-kind woman. The end, which you of course knew was coming from the start, is nevertheless very difficult. There is a point in the final weeks of his mother's life, where Will is ready to tell her how much he loves her, but instead he tells her how proud he is of her. At first he berates himself for this sudden change, but then he reconsiders, figuring she already knew he loved her, but how often does a child tell a parent how proud he or she is of that parent? A good point, I think.

As a confirmed and lifelong reader, I was already prepared to love this book. But as a son, I was not prepared for its emotional impact. This is good writing about a painful and difficult subject and completely deserving of its success. Highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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on April 4, 2014
I don't know if it's the timing of when I'm reading this book or if it's just boring but I have had a hell of a time getting into it. I thought I would be able to identify and was very excited about reading, but chapter after chapter is a let down. I thought they would talk about books and how they have influenced not only the mothers life, the sons life, but their relationship but it really did none of that. This book mentioned books, but didn't go into detail about them or how they changed their lives. The most descriptive part in relation to other books was about the Hobbit and was in the first quarter of the book. I don't think the writing is bad, I just wish there was more meat to this book. I would not recommend picking it up.
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VINE VOICEon December 13, 2012
Actually, if this had been a novel, I would have found it unrealistic, but it is about real people. Will (the son) and Mary Ann (his mother) grow their relationship in discussions over books during the last two years of her life. That part, of course, I would have believed.

This wonderful lady had enough energy for a half dozen people when she was healthy, and in her last illness she still had more energy than I. I know Mary Ann realized how lucky she was. All but one person I have known with pancreatic cancer died of it within four months. Additionally, having anything at all wrong with one's liver saps the strength so badly that it is hard to get out of bed. And, having something wrong with your liver makes you so unhungry that your first thought upon waking is, "Oh dear, I have to eat again today."

Yet this remarkable woman soldiered on.

The author lists the books they discussed during their unique two person book club. What is appealing about them to him and his mother is usually the character or characters. Although I have read some of the books they discuss, they are definitely not books I would choose, having long ago decided I didn't have to read fiction if I didn't want to. Even among their books I have read, nothing in them made me want to read others by the same authors. (The exception being Josephine Tey whom Will liked, but his mother didn't.)

The fact that their taste in books is different from mine in no way lessened my pleasure at this gem of a book. There aren't many humans in the world as good as Mary Ann Schwalbe. The world is a little darker for her loss, even despite the fact she was very religious.
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