The End of Your Life Book Club
Category: nonfiction, memoir, books, reading, families
Synopsis: While his mother undergoes cancer treatment, Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, form a two-person book club.
Date finished: 18 March 2013
Comments: All through this book I kept thinking: why has this book resonated with so many people? Not that is shouldn’t have, but there’s no denying that this book has done what few books about books do. I suppose it owes a lot of its success to the death component of the book, the part I enjoyed least (I kept wishing for more “book club” and less “end of life”), but I also think that there were many things going on here, that many different people in different phases of life could react to. There was the end of life aspect and the avid reader aspect, of course, but there was also the mother/child relationship, the activist, the gay son, health, and politics. A lot to relate to.
Oddly, it took me awhile to truly care for the narrator or his mother, but I found myself enjoying them—if not really relating to them—by the book’s end. Though I disagree with his mother’s politics, I understand her reason for them, and by the end of the book I fully respected them as well as the woman who held them. It took a while, but Schwalbe succeeded in creating a fleshed-out mother, with her years of work in Afghanistan and literacy; her disdain for silliness; her pride and positivity; her spiritual prayer life.
I’m glad he didn’t spend much time on her actual death. It was all wrapped up in a few pages (almost abruptly considering all the lead up).
What I found myself enjoying most was the talk of books. Although most (all?) of the books discussed were fiction, and therefor books I’d never read, they were all books I’d heard of, and they were discussed in a very understated, yet intelligent, way. I’ve read many books about readers reading, but this book was the most successful. I actually enjoyed reading about the books they discussed, regardless of the fact that I’d likely never read them myself. This is because, as Schwalbe says, “All readers have reading in common.” (page 314)
One of my favorite exchanges between mother and son was on page 151:
“It’s cruelty that gets to me. Still, it’s important to read about cruelty.”
“Why is it important?”
“Because when you read about it, it’s easier to recognize….”
I also thoroughly enjoyed his description of the reader’s voice many writers put on when reading their work in public (page 205). It made me nod and laugh out loud with its accuracy.
All in all, this was a well-written tribute to mothers, books, and what endures.
Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, especially to those who love books about books.