The End of your Life Book Club

The End of your Life Book Club

Book - 2012
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"What are you reading?"

That's the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a "book club" that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other--and rediscover their lives--through their favorite books. When they read, they aren't a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will's love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page. 

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307594037
Characteristics: viii, 336 p. ; 21 cm.


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Apr 19, 2017

I couldn't even get half way through this book. It was embarrassing to read. It is poorly written and badly edited. It's a glaringly obvious vanity piece written by a privileged kid who has a job in the publishing industry because his "family" had "connections".

A young man has been desperate for his socialite mother's attention all his life. She is an ivy league educated narcissistic control freak who traveled the world gaining fame & fortune and notoriety through her charitable work.

Finally, she's her child's captive because she's dying so he's milking her for all the attention he can get before it's too late. This guy needs a therapist and his negligent self indulgent mother will have some karma to deal work off next time around.

Mar 17, 2017

The book's very title gives away the ending. It's ironic that the author's mother always reads the end first. But she doesn't convert her son to her method of book reading, or even try. Much as he loves her and applauds what she's accomplished with her life, he recognizes that she's a controlling person and not a saint. For him, that's part of what he admires about her--she's the hub of the family. The family takes turns sitting with her through appointments and treatments, and the book club evolves for the two of them. What are two readers going to do while sitting in doctors' waiting rooms and though hours of chemo? They start talking about the characters, which leads them in multiple directions, sometimes not very relevant to the book. They choose books because they apply to her situation, or their family, or the refugee work she's done, or because one of them has loved it before. The book list at the end is an added bonus.

Oct 16, 2016

A beautiful tribute of a child to a parent, with a different twist to "living through the dying"process. Picked up several titles of books I now want to read. Would make a very good book club selection.

Mar 08, 2016

Well written and touching story of a family confronting their Mom's terminal illness. Remarkable family, remarkable story.

Jul 23, 2015

an enjoyable read but definitely the product of a US family privileged to have health care, the money to travel, and the ability to take time off work.

a loving portrait of a woman who dedicated her life to working for others, particularly with refugees; and a tale of a son who loves and respects his mother and is able to spend many hours with her in the last 2 years of her life.

and the importance of books

bibliotechnocrat Dec 31, 2014

How does one talk to the dying? Schwalbe, waiting with his terminally ill mother through interminable doctor appointments and chemo sessions, begins a 'book club' to give their enforced inactivity a focus. They read and discuss a huge range of books, the circumstances lending a poignancy to what might otherwise be casual conversation. In part, this book is an homage to the mother bordering on hagiography. Nonetheless, it is a thought-provoking read, well worth your time.

forbesrachel Nov 10, 2014

The title says it all. This is the account of the moments, and the books shared, between a mother and son as she approaches the end of her life. Even while undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe continued to fight to make the lives of others better. Her spirit and wisdom permeate every inch of this book as her son Will, narrates their precious time together. Their tale speaks to the universality of books. Books bring us together through their internal humanity. We experience them, share them, and integrate their messages into our lives. They tie us with invisible threads, binding us to those we talk about it with, the author who wrote it, and even to the real or fictional characters who inhabit the pages. While the backdrop of a mother dying is certainly sad, the tone never reflects this. It is in fact more commemorative. Will remembers his mother fondly, and he strives to impart her philosophies. She sees her glass as half-full, accepts her fate, and only regrets not being able to do more. Both of them learn lessons and take solace in the books they read, and so too does this book do the same for us.

Aug 28, 2014

I loved this book. Beautifully written. A fitting tribute to books, as well as the author's extraordinary mother.

Jul 23, 2014

This is probably the best book I've read in many months and was also the discussion topic for my book club. We could have talked for hours. The book is a tribute to the author's mother. It's the story of her two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. It's the story of the author and his mother reading together and discussing books throughout this time, especially during the hours when she's in chemotherapy. There's so much good food for thought here, and it's wonderful the way the books prompt both conversation and thought.

Jul 21, 2014

This is a gem of a book for fiction lovers and a life-lesson on using time, what we have left of it, brilliantly. Read it if you want to know a lovely and wise woman and if you love books, especially fiction.

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Mar 12, 2013

Page 128 -
" 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 dreams 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."

Jan 04, 2013

“One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. ... I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can't feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight.”


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