* Prices may differ from that shown
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Publisher: Two Roads
Having read an excellent review of this book on here from Koshka I was tempted to read it. The title would normally have put me off big time as it sounds quite depressing to me.
DON'T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
So the title is not exactly a welcoming one but the cover has been sensitively designed with an olive colour and autumn leaves around the edges. It is not the sort that will jump out and say 'read me' if browsing in a book shop but it is attractive.
Even though I did quite like the sound of the book when reading the review I am not sure I would ever have gone out and bought it but I joined the 'Curiousbookfans ' site and they were offering a chance to win a copy and I was lucky enough to be chosen to receive one that was signed by the author too so that is how I came to read this book.
I have not heard of Will Schwalbe before nor indeed had I heard of his mother which considering wat she achieved in her life is quite stunning. Will was an editor and publisher but left his job as editor in chief of Hyperion Books while his mother was ill and started his own website Cookstr.com which is basically a recipe site with all kinds of recipes on line. He still writes as a journalist and is on a couple of boards and Foundations too.
Will's Mum was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and this book was written about the books Will and his mother shared during her treatment .
Mary Anne Schwalbe was an amazing woman with it seems, boundless energy and. She did so much for different charities, particularly refugees and travelled to many places that would be a long way down the list of places you might want to visit such as Darfur, Afghanistan and others in similar states of unrest. She also sponsored and assisted several young refugees who came to the USA withr her help who regarded her as their American Mother.
One story that I thought was especially selfless was how she paid for the medication for one woman whose daughter was in tears in the hospital while Mary Anne was having her treatment. She didn't make a fuss she just did it and I suspect as it was cancer treatment in the USA that we are not talking about a small amount of money.
She constantly argued that she was not brave when going through her treatment and suffering from a pretty awful cancer. She recalled people she considered brave such as a family who insisted on walking in front of her and her other refugee charity workers through a minefield as they didn't want people who had come to help them to die while so doing.
As I said this book discusses books that Will and his mother shared during the time she was dying of cancer and the parts I enjoyed most were when they discussed a book that I had also read as I felt like I was able to take part in the discussion too in a sort of way in my head. I would find myself nodding in agreement or thinking 'yes that's right' and so on.
It helped that a lot of the books were ones I was interested in and I have added a few of those they read to my list of ones I would like to read. Those I would like to read include Jhumpa Lahiri "Interpreter of Maladies' even though I had found her short stories in 'Unaccustomed Earth ' a bit frustrating I had enjoyed the way she wrote. I also fancy ' The bite of the Mango' by Mariatu Kamara and in fact about four other s in their book club reading list.
I found that I had read a lot of those they mentioned well over 60% so I was able to share in quite a lot of their thoughts but I did find that the religious discussions became a bit much to take and the poetry elements left me cold but I am not into poetry at all. It suppose it isn't surprising that someone close to death becomes even more religious and so the religious discussions were not unexpected but even so I di find them a bit tedious but again others might find them a comfort. I am not religious at all and find religion totally unbelievable and often people who are religious are rather hypercritical and the least generous in our society so not for me. I realize that is a personal opinion and that others may actually find the religious bits inspirational so I leave that for others to decide for themselves.
I found the way the author wrote was an easy to read style and almost as though he was telling me about his mother and the books personally. His deep love and respect for his mother comes through loud and clear without being over sentimentalized at all. He talks about how hard it was to actually say to his mother how much he loved her. He also talked about the way to handle discussions about illness and how people were feeling. According to one book they read on the subject you should say, " Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?' rather than the more obvious one 'How are you feeling?'
A GREAT TRIBUTE TO A VERY STRONG WOMAN
Mary Anne continued to work throughout her treatment and went to meetings and spoke at different conferences. She continued to work and raise money for a library in Afghanistan. Her treatment was fairly grueling and required spending days enduring chemo in hospital and it was during these long days that Will and Mary Anne discussed the books in their two person book clubs. I cannot emphasize the respect and admiration I feel for this woman who is one of life true heroes and one of many unsung heroes in our world.
I would say don't be put off reading this by the subject matter as it really is far more inspirational that I would have thought possible. I say well done to Will Schwalbe for writing such a fitting tribute to his much loved and admired mother.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
~Mother and Son~
Sitting at the hospital waiting for his mother to complete her chemotherapy session, Will Schwalbe asked her what she was reading. Hours and hours of poison dripping into her arm could be made bearable by reading books and talking about them. Will and his mother, Mary Anne, formed their own two person 'book club' and Will called it 'The End of Your Life Book Club'. With a diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer (there is no stage 5) both knew that Mary Anne's days were numbered but there were still so many great books to be read for the first time or old favourites to be read again. Metastasised pancreatic cancer comes with a short shelf life - typically as little as 3 to 6 months, optimistically, no more than a couple of years. In book terms, Mary Anne's diagnosis was more of a novella than a competitor to War and Peace.
For the rest of Mary Anne's life, she and Will recommended books to each other, read them and then used them as a medium through which to discuss not only their contents but so much more. They didn't always agree, they couldn't always finish some of the books, but their book club gave them both something that they needed in the darkest days of treatment. After all, what better way to get to know someone than through the books they love and those they loathe? And what better way to take your mind off your troubles than with a good book? When the book club eventually loses half its membership, the logical next step is of course to record its story in a book of its own. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven"
It's not easy to talk to people who know they are dying; it' s not even easy to talk to people who have cancer who are probably going to live a long and full life. There's just so much baggage in the way that interferes with what needs to be said. Will and Mary Anne use their reading to open up lines of discussion that would be much harder tackled head on. It's easier to talk about characters in books who are struggling with challenges than to admit that you're not doing so well with your own challenges. It's also not easy to tell a readership of strangers about someone else's cancer story and your part within it.
The book club structure brings a twist to Will and Mary Anne's story that's missing from most cancer biographies and autobiographies. If you are anything like me you'll have one half of your brain following the progression of Mary Anne's disease and the other half scribbling down the book recommendations. Reading 'cancerographies' is hard work - I know, I've read a lot - but the 'book club' brings an alternative approach. It helps of course if you are a book lover and can relate to the passion for reading which Will and his mother share, but even prolific readers will find that the book teaches them not only about life and death but about the power of a really good book to move you and to peel off the onion skin layers of 'what you already know' and reveal deeper truths. As a book lover who has had cancer - fortunately a much more treatable one than Mary Anne - I could totally relate to the need to devour literature up to the final moment. When I heard I had cancer I thought to myself "I can't possibly die, I have far too many books still to read".
~Where there's a Will, there's a way~
Will Schwalbe is not just a nice guy who sat by his mother's side through her treatment and her decline. He's also - thank goodness - a very good writer. I guess you can't work in publishing for as long as he had and not learn to write well. I'm grateful for his skills as it's so hard to review a poorly written cancer book and not feel lower than a snake's belly for criticising the style or the grammar. Will's also a good biographer and tells us as much about his mother's amazing life and her outstanding achievements as he does about her illness.
There's no way anyone reading this can escape from the realisation that Mary Anne Schwalbe was someone very special who had dedicated her life to humanitarian work all over the world as well as to breaking down barriers to women's education in the USA. Will introduces us to one of life's really GOOD people - a woman who pays for the drugs that another patient needs but can't afford, who sends a student overseas on a bursary for an award that doesn't really exist just so she can get him to take the money, and always a woman who balanced her love for her family with her driving passion to contribute to a better world. At the time of her diagnosis and through her treatment, Mary Anne continued to campaign for a library in Afghanistan, only giving up when an exhausted benefactor gave in and made a massive donation just so that he could tell her to stop working so hard. We are introduced to this feisty and highly principled woman and thankfully given more time than we expect to get to know her pretty well. I was fascinated by the things she'd achieved, by her belief in others and her unwavering religious faith. I thank Will for giving me a chance to know more about this remarkable woman.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Published by Two Roads, October 2012
Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.
I carried out a Q&A interview with Will for Curiousbookfans.co.uk and if you are interested you can read the interview on that site.