Saturday, November 01, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club

I read about The End of Your Life Book Club shortly after I finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and got on the list for the audio version at the library, since I was in the mood for another book about books.  Having read it and enjoyed it, I'm still in the mood for books about I'm on the prowl for another likely candidate.

The End of Your Life Book Club is a memoir by Will Schwable, who recounts the time he spent with his mother Mary Anne Schwable during the last two years of her life, while she was dying from pancreatic cancer.  He spends a lot of time with her during her chemo treatments and they decide to have their own book club--sharing books, discussing them, and using these discussions as a springboard for discussions about how to live, how to die, how to raise a family, find love and meaning in your life, and give of yourself to your friends, family, and the world.

I found his disclaimer at the beginning of the book critical to remember whilst reading it--this book is about his experience of being with his mother while she was dying.  He acknowledges that it wouldn't and couldn't match the experience that his father or sister or brother had with his mother at the same time.  This was important to me because like all memoirs this one is about Will, with his mother as the context in which he recounts his story.

I loved reading about the books that Will and Mary Anne read and discussed.  Some were books I've read recently and loved (Olive Kitteridge, People of the Book, Brooklyn, and Crossing to Safety),  some are books that have figured deeply in my own life (The Hobbit, Gone With the Wind, The Story of Ferdinand,  and The Diary of Anne Frank), some that I've read and remembered and thought about (The Year of Magical Thinking, The Lord of the Flies, and Traveling Mercies).  There were quite a few that I had never heard of (Will and Mary Anne read many more books by authors who are neither American nor British), and quite a few on my to read list.  I ended up have to skip sections where I feared spoilers might spoil a book for me.  Surprisingly, Will and Mary Anne loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo--a book I've dismissed as pop-culture but am now considering reading.  The first book I'll be reading that Will and Mary Anne loved is The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Also surprising to me was that Mary Anne was a read-the-end-first type of reader.  This helped Will and Mary Anne in discussing a book she might not have finished because she already knew the ending.  While I as a reader acknowledge that the journey of reading a book is what I relish, I cannot imagine reading an ending before I get to it by reading the entire book or story that precedes it.

I did read a pretty long thread on GoodReads about how some readers ended up not liking Mary Anne at all. They saw her as controlling, domineering, and rigid, despite her philanthropic work that she continued almost to the very end of her life.  I have to give Will the benefit of the doubt her--he clearly loved and admired his mother and his book about the time he spent with her at the end of her life is one of the most beautiful tributes I can imagine a son paying to a mother.

For me, however, much as I found Will and Mary Anne's journey towards her death compelling to read about, I liked the book talk in the book most of all.  I write a blog and I read blogs because I love to talk books.  If you're in the same camp, then The End of Your Life Book Club is definitely a treat.

My one quibble with it is that the title makes me uncomfortable.  I thought about giving this book to my own 91-year old mother, but I don't want to imply to her that I think the end is near, which I actually don't think!

If you're interested in taking a look at the list of books that Will and Mary Anne read and/or discuss in the memoir, there is a list on GoodReads.


  1. I'm working on my own post about this book as I read your review, but it might be easier to skip it and direct folks here. You even have most of the same books I've read and loved! I was shocked to learn that Mary Anne was a read-the-end-first reader, too.

    Have you read The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee? I loved that one.

    1. I haven't heard of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee--will check that out. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. This is a popular theme at the moment. The quickest thing tondo is to simply direct you to Michael at Literary Explorations post on several of these books about books:-)

    1. Thanks for the recommendation--I'll pay Michael a visit! :)

  3. I really enjoyed this book too, though my reading tastes are different from Will's and his mother's. But that also happens with blogs. It's the experience of talking about books, and the way we read books, not necessarily that we are all reading the same books.

  4. I also love books about books and this one seems very thoughtful as well as powerful.

    The fact that character in a book has some negative traits that makes them somewhat unlikeable adds to the appeal of a book for me.

  5. I loved this one Jane, but yes the title makes it an off-putting selection to give an elderly person.