The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Author: Will Schwalbe
Format: Hardcover, 342 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Pub Date: October 2, 2012
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe is a memoir about the author and his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, who carry on conversations prompted by their passion for books, those they read, and agree to read together just around the time Mary Anne suffers from a rare type of hepatitis and is then later diagnosed with an advanced form of pancreatic cancer.
And while the title of the book is stark and its subject matter expected to be melancholy, Will Schwalbe’s voice is anything but that. It is instead intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, keenly observant, and witty.
I should know since I was the primary caregiver to my grandfather while he fought his own battle against pancreatic cancer in 1999.
So, while one might expect a wallowing narrative or in the other terrible extreme, an overpowering devotion to self-help or holistic, new age, positive thinking — the book is appreciatively neither.
It has instead, a quiet, but determined resilience much like Mary Anne Schwalbe herself who you learn about through the confidence Will shares with his readers about the conversational topics they have about books.
Books become a lifeline through Mary Anne Schwalbe’s terminal illness, a collective repertoire of her attitudes and beliefs. They also become a lifeline in which Will Schwalbe is able to know his mother more and give testament to her leadership, passions, and ideals. Books in the process also become a comfort and solace, a way of bringing delight or instruction, and a means to communicate what isn’t always easily spoken, but absolutely required.
So, this memoir works two-fold. It’s an observant and graceful testament to Will Schwalbe’s relationship to his mother, honouring both who she was and what she believed in; and a testament to the significance of literacy and the power of books, and what they can mean to our own stories.
If you’re an avid reader this book will reconfirm all the reasons why you are so, even providing an Appendix of books that Will and his mother read during their two-year journey. If you’re a light or skeptic reader, or a reader at all, this book will encourage and inspire you to read more.
The honesty and tenderness in which Will Schwalbe writes (especially about such a painful and personal topic) reflects one of the things his mother believed:
[That] the written word, on the page or read aloud, was to be accorded the utmost respect,” – p. 207
which is what readers will hopefully feel by the end of reading this book.
As Will Schwalbe gives a heartfelt thanks to his mother in his memoir, we should return the favour to him, the author, as its humbled readers.
If you were given an opportunity to write a memoir, what topic do you think you’d like to write about?
Has anyone close to you ever battled cancer or another terminal illness?
What do you find hardest about watching someone you love fight such a battle?