Reading Life and Death – The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Posted by Justine Solomons on 18 November 2012, in Recommendations

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Review by Julia Newhouse.

Before the book launched in October, I heard about 'The End of Your Life Book Club', and knew it was something I just had to read. I had pre-ordered it, had grand plans of reading it in a weekend, and having my review done while the book was still new on the store shelves. That didn’t quite happen, because this is a book that begs to be read slowly and with care. It is personal and touching, and can’t be rushed. It is also a book about a loss, and one that I simply couldn’t read in one sitting. For that reason, here we are a month later.

The title of 'The End of Your Life Book Club' aptly sums up what the book is about. Namely, it follows the author Will Schwalbe and his mother’s two-person book club over the time when his mother is diagnosed and succumbing to pancreatic cancer. The books they love, and those that have touched them, offer them a chance to learn to appreciate each other anew, discuss life through literature, and take their minds off the tedium of waiting in hospitals and doctors' offices. This is, however, not a misery memoir. It is far from it. Will Schwalbe’s writing effortlessly conveys the love his family shares, and the journey they are all on alongside his mother. She is an impressive woman, who worked outside of the home well before it was a norm, was a dedicated humanitarian, and a wonderful wife and mother. The kind of woman she was is reflected in the fact that during her illness she was still devoted to her latest project: to build a library in Afghanistan. As the two discuss books with one another, the fact that Will’s mother is sick can fade for a moment, as you listen to what they have learned, and what can be learned from the written word. I had read a smattering of the books that the two discuss, but fear not if you haven't. I found their discussions on those I hadn't read just as enlightening as those I was familiar with. And as a bonus, a few have now made their way on to my 'to read' list.

'The End of Your Life Book Club' is different to anything else I have read in recent memory, and it is by turns touching, tragic, funny, and insightful. Everything comes together here to make this a unique, and special book. Two years ago, a close friend's mother passed away, and I bought him a book on grieving that he later told me he "hated" because "they don’t know what it is like" and had a "snarky voice". I can’t help but wish that this book had been published then, with its gentle insight into the losses we have faced, and those that are yet to come. This a book that I will long remember, and one that I will keep on my shelf, ready to lend to anyone who might need a little reminder about how to find good in the very worst of times.

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