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The End of Your Life Book Club
Author: Will Schwalbe
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
Genre: Memoir
Hardcover Edition: 326 pages
Source: Library copy

This book celebrates much worthy of true celebration. It celebrates books and reading. It is a giant toast to lives spent reading. It holds motherhood in high esteem, and it is a lasting tribute to a woman of tremendous energy and successes, Mary Anne Schwalbe.

It is also about parents and their children when life is ending for a parent. So it is about family ties. It is full of caring and kind advice, that doesn’t sound at all like someone giving advice.

The experience of reading this book is a celebration in and of itself.

Reading this book, I marveled at the closeness of this mother to her children and enjoyed the chronicle of the mother and son relationship, since son Will is the author of the book. I was amazed at the work she carried on throughout her life with persons in need in countries around the globe, especially at her work with the Woman’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, which she helped to found. I told myself I must find out more about this organization and I intend to do so. Mary Ann Swalbe reached out to others in need while raising her children and holding demanding paid positions, often in the education community.

The website for Women’s Refugee Commission is www.womensrefugeecommission.org

This organization also has a page on Facebook

The easy-going and natural style of the book make it a joy to read, comforting in spite of Mary Anne’s trials with the therapies for pancreatic cancer. It’s not that the author shies away from this part of the telling, but there is so much joy in his mother’s family ties, reading, helping others, and organizing for the greater good that the reader is filled with inspiration.

There is, too, the joy of all those books they read and discussed, mostly classics, but some contemporary attention-getters, as well. The reader will no doubt enjoy being reminded of many beloved books. For this reader, authors Elizabeth Bishop, Geraldine Brooks, and specific books such as The Kite Runner, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gilead, Crossing to Safety and most especially Esther Forbes’s Paul Revere and the World, originally written for young people. There are many more. The author kindly includes a list at the end of the book. Kindness is what his mother always tried to practice and to teach. Readers are the better for it.

For those reviewers who claim this memoir doesn’t stab and slice at family and others as it should, I say, they were not raised by Mary Anne Schwalbe. We should all hold kindness in such high esteem.

Mary Anne’s courage and grace even in the worst of circumstances shine in this book. So does her son’s tremendous love.

Often, in this blogspace, I preach about how personal reading rightly should be. What to read is a personal decision. We are all different. I am prone to pontificate on the subject. We will not all like the same books. And we do not.

Now hear this: This memoir has much to offer, especially for those who are life-long readers and whose interest in women and children around the world is strong. There is so much to learn from Mary Ann and her son about interactions with people, near and far away. Open the page. Begin to read. I expect you will keep reading with gratitude, until you have reached the last page. As you are reading think about how you can connect with this book.

As with every reading experience there are barriers to understanding with this one. You may not be familiar with many of the books Will and his mother read, often while she is receiving treatment. You may not easily identify with this highly educated and affluent family. However, I urge you to explore this read. See what barriers to understanding you might overcome. Give Mary Anne, Will and their families a bit of your time. I know this. I am very glad I did. This reading experience not only taught me much about life and living, it changed my outlook on life, making it brighter and more hopeful. For that, I am very grateful.