Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club is a touching memoir about a mother and son and the books they read together before she died. But somehow any way that I try to describe this gem of a book comes off as much more maudlin or schmaltzy than the book ever is and does not quite capture its honesty, warmth, intelligence and artistry.
Will Schwalbe was an editor at Hyperion when his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mary Anne Schwalbe was a remarkable person in her own right and spent much of her life working tirelessly on the behalf of women and refugees. During her treatment, Mary Anne spoke to everyone she could about building a library in Afghanistan. But it is not only through her good works that we learn more about her, but through the books that touched her life and the conversations she shared with her son, Will.
Will spends a lot of time with his mother during her chemo treatments and they inadvertently begin a book group of two. They read a wide variety of classics and contemporary fiction and nonfiction from Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As with any book discussion, you learn about the readers as much as you do the book itself. Schwalbe’s memoir pays homage to a quiet yet extraordinary woman by honoring her mind and the love she shared beyond her family. Book by book, chapter by chapter, this memoir will capture your heart. It feels like a privilege to join Will and his mother in their conversations about the books that they shared in the last years of Mary Anne’s life.
I can’t think of a better January selection for a book group that Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club. Plus, the book itself, which is also accompanied with a wonderful list of books at the end, would provide so many ideas for other books to read throughout the year.