THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe: A Review

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.

TUESDAY TEASER

This meme hosted by The Purple Booker asks readers to take the book they’re currently reading, open it at random, and copy a couple of sentences that might tease other readers into reading the same book.

I love books about books, reading, and people who love books. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is just such a book.  It is her first book, her debut novel, which tells the story of Sarah who comes to visit the US from Sweden to see her elderly Book Buddy, Amy, only to find a surprise.  While spending her time in Broken Wheel, almost a ghost town, Sarah re-opens Amy’s small shop as a book shop, using Amy’s vast collection of books as her merchandise. Here is an excerpt from near the beginning of the book:

As she enters the local cafe, Sarah meets Grace, the toughest, shotgun-toting woman in town who owns the place.  Grace speaks: “You must be the tourist,” she said.  The smoke from her cigarette hit Sarah in the face.”

“I’m Sarah.  Do you know where Amy Harris lives?”

“The woman nodded,  “One hell of a day”, a lump of ash from her cigarette landed on the counter…” “She leaned over the counter. Amy’s dead, she said.”

This is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud-books I’ve ever read, and it makes me want to go an see what Sarah brought about in Broken Wheel, just through the introduction of books into people’s lives.