I have been in a two-person book club for a while; my girlfriend and I call ourselves, “Book Buddies.” We always recommend books to each other,and loan them or give them to each other, then discuss them. At least once, we have read a book series simultaneously and commented via email and have sent clippings of reviews or interesting snippets concerning movies or TV shows to be made from a book we have read as well. When I heard that this book was about a man and his dying mother forming a two person book club and reading the books together, I was interested, then thought, “Eeeww, another book about dying and loss…no thanks”! In a weak moment after hearing a Third Tuesday Book Club friend had started reading this book, I ordered it from Amazon.
It is NOT depressing or a “downer” as I feared, but uplifting and even inspiring at times; never maudlin nor graphic in the details of Schwalbe’s mother’s pain and suffering, the memoir/literary criticism/biographical tribute of a book showed me the proper way one should deal with suffering, and ultimately, dying. Mrs. Schwalbe was an educated, intelligent activist, and an altogether “classy” woman. Mother and son’s choices of books were varied and ones I had not encountered myself. I read with pen and paper at hand to copy down titles and authors. Interestingly enough, they did not avoid books about death and dying, but instead embraced them, which often opened the door for them to have conversations about final wishes, and to say things that are awkward to broach to someone whose life is coming to an end.
Dealing with themes of mothers and sons, celebration of a life, and celebration of books, End of Your Life expresses Mrs. Schwalbe’s and her son’s “devotion to the printed word.” (Stanley Schiff, author). The simple dedication reads, “What follows is my story. It’s mostly about Mom and me.” We learn much about the woman featured by her son, and much about him as well as he describes the meetings of their two-person book club during her chemo treatments over the period of her illness, and then at home after she discontinues her treatments. They formed this club to pass the time, but it did so much more; it bonded them in a special way and gave them knowledge about each other neither would have thought to give the other under “normal” circumstances.
It is a fine read. I was able to put it down and pick it up again some time later without losing the “thread” of the story or the appreciation of the two’s appreciation for good writing and passion for books.