Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Book About Books: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
The End of Your Life Book Club: a
bibliotherapeutic book for booklovers!
Image source.
"Why didn't I buy the paperback edition?" is the question that I seem to be forever asking myself these days. It generally happens after I read something remarkable and I want to share it with everyone. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe is one such book.

If you love reading as much as I do - and I know most of you do - then I'd love for you to get a copy and let me know what you think. It's perhaps best classed as a memoir, in which Will Schwalbe celebrates his mother's life and their shared relationship with literature; something which becomes most prominent following his mother's diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.

His mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, truly deserved to have a book written about her life. In fact, I think it was necessary. She spent a great deal of her life in education, teaching and overseeing admissions (including some time at both Radcliffe and Harvard University), but during her last two decades she dedicated herself to working with refugees worldwide.

She spent six months in Thai refugee camps, was shot at in Afghanistan, and was an electoral observer in the Balkans. She founded the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and persuaded the International Rescue Committee to set up a UK office. Towards the end of her life, her work to fund a library project in Afghanistan reflected her love of reading and her belief in its power to change.

Will Schwalbe describes Mary Anne as the 'air traffic control' in their family, as the person who would automatically assume responsibility and control over others. You notice this characteristic of hers throughout the book, not least in how 'Will's' blog posts about her health are in fact written by her. In some reviews people criticise this side of her character, but I appreciated how Will wrote so accurately and honestly about his incredibly philanthropic and kind, yet always on the go, mother.

The 'End of Your Life Book Club' described in the title encompasses the literary bond between Will and Mary Anne that is strengthened with Mary Anne's deterioration of health. Before her check-ups and chemo appointments, the mother and son discuss the books they have both been reading. As they choose to read (or reread) the same books together, their book club of two people is formed.

I love that there was a balance between classic texts and new fiction in their book club. Thomas Mann's tomes and Tolkien's The Hobbit are discussed at length, but so are novels such as Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Will and Mary Anne both provide their own insights into each text, and in the case that I'd read the book too, I also considered my own thoughts.

By reading this book you're invited into Will and Mary Anne's book club, and this is perhaps what I enjoyed most about it. Not only could I join their discussions of great books, but I could also find recommendations of novels I'd perhaps enjoy as much as they did.

After finishing The End of Your Life Book Club this morning, I'm going to send an email to my local village bookshop asking them to stock The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro in time for my trip back home next weekend. I'm in need of some real, tangible books, and Will Schwalbe's remarkable book has provided me with the perfect ideas to start with.


Silver's Reviews said...

I haven't read this book, but I heard him speak at the BEA this Spring.

He was wonderful, and the book sounds wonderful as well.

THANKS for sharing.

Silver's Reviews
My Blog

Shannon @ River City Reading said...

Your blog looks fantastic! I really wanted to read this when it first came out, but it ended up getting pushed back...I'm so glad to have this post remind me of why I was so curious in the first place. Now it's moving back up my list!

Rivorniel Tinubelin said...

Well thanks a lot Lucy, as if my to-be-read mountain is not high enough already ;) As many of us I also love books about books and it's especially good to know that in this one there is balance between newer and older books because this is also what I base my own reading experiences on.

Also, I'm loving the new look of your blog! Not that anything was wrong with the previous one, but changes can be good sometimes.

Brian Joseph said...

I had heard really good things about this book. Of course it sounds like a perfect read for book lovers.

I too like the combination of classics and more contemporary books.

tolstoytherapy said...

It was a great read! I always enjoy books that present a love of literature through themes or characters, so this was the perfect choice for me. I think knowing about New York would add to your enjoyment of the book too!

Lee-Anne Penny said...

Thank you for the reminder, Lucy! I heard Will Schwalbe interviewed this summer and was really impressed by his thoughts. I will definitely be finding a copy!

tolstoytherapy said...

I think you'd really enjoy it, Lee-Anne! There are lots of interesting thoughts on sickness, health and the impact of positive thinking on the body. I imagine the author's interviews would be wonderful to listen to. You'll have to let me know if you read it, or otherwise post about it on your lovely blog! Lucy.

tolstoytherapy said...

It is indeed a wonderful book, Elizabeth! I'm sure I'll be recommending it to so people, particularly those with an existing love for books. The author sounds like a really genuine person too.

I'll keep an eye on your blog in case you do decide to read it and write a review!

Best wishes,

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks so much, Shannon! I came across the book quite spontaneously in a Spanish bookshop, and after putting off reading it for several weeks, I ended up giving in. I'm glad I did!

tolstoytherapy said...

Haha, my apologies! I think you'd enjoy this book, although like me you'd probably come away from reading it with an even higher to-read mountain!

And I'm glad you like the blog's new look :) I still need to adjust some of the colours (e.g. the blog title) and widget sizes/positions, but it's getting there! It's good to have a fresh perspective of things, I think.

The Book Wheel said...

I really liked this book! Not only does it celebrate reading, but the author commented on my review, which totally made me love it even more!

tolstoytherapy said...

It's always great when that happens! The book was such a pleasure to read... definitely one of my favourites to review as well :)

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book too; I love your review!

All the best for 2014,