Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: The End of Your Life Book Club (Audio)

Summary: “What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.  -- Random House Audio

Over the past few weeks, I consider myself fortunate that I was able to listen to THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe during my morning runs. This book managed to touch my heart like few books do, and I truly can't stress just how special it was to me. I began each day with an inspiring message (or two), and I loved how this book celebrated a woman's life as well as the power of a good book.

THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB is Will Schwalbe's heartfelt story about the "book club" he and his mother formed in the final years of her life. When Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she and her son found that they were spending many hours in waiting rooms. It all started innocently enough one day when Mr. Schwalbe asked his mother, who was a fellow long-time reader, what she was reading. This simple question spurred a semi-regular "book club" with Mr. Schwalbe and his mother as the members. Over the next two years, these two spent countless hours discussing a wide variety of books and getting to know each other as they waited for various doctor visits and treatments.

I am having a very hard time articulating just how much THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB affected me. I'm almost ready to stop writing and just tell you to read it -- that would probably be best. However, I will try to share some of my gut reactions because I feel I have a duty (of sorts) to encourage others to read this book. THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB could very well be one of those life-changing reads. I think it was for me!

I have a feeling that this book will affect everyone who reads it in some way; however, I do think different readers will take away different things from Mr. Schwalbe's story. It might be as simple as getting some book recommendations for future reads. Some might treasure the story about a devoted mother and son, while others might appreciate it more on an intellectual level, i.e. how two intelligent people interpreted many thought-provoking books. It's also possible that this book can help individuals who are dying from a terminal disease or even the loved ones of those who are dying. It might even cause some readers to become more compassionate to those in need and realize our responsibility to help others. There is no doubt that Mrs. Schwalbe is one special and inspirational woman.

I've only touched the surface of some of my feelings about this book, but suffice it to say that I think you'd be hard-pressed not to be affected by these two amazing people. If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB. I know for a fact that I wasn't expecting this book to be so touching and so thought-provoking. In hindsight, I think I was expecting more on the book discussion; however, I am so happy that Mr. Schwalbe chose to tell this story in the way he did. I loved his candor and his beautiful tribute to his mother, and it was so much more than I ever hoped to get out of this book!

What could be a better book club discussion than a book about a real-life book club? Naturally, I'm going to recommend a book like THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB as a selection for your next meeting! I adored this book and everything it represented. There is a reading guide available with fifteen fantastic questions. I can always tell how much potential a book has a great discussion when I want to call a friend and talk about the discussion questions. And that's exactly how I feel about these! Some of the themes you might want to discuss in more detail are the power of books, death, grief, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, charity, perseverance, faith, politics, war, and "magical thinking." Because I do think this book will resonate with so many readers, I have a feeling that the topics are almost limitless!

The audio book of THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB was read by Jeff Harding, and I thought he did a wonderful job. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Harding as an audio book narrator, but that doesn't mean anything since I'm still a relative newbie to this format. Evidently, he's read some pretty major books including THE DAVINCI CODE. I was impressed with his interpretation of Mr. Schwalbe's story, and I thought he gave just the right amount of emotion to the story.

I'm not sure that I expressed just how much THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB touched me. It was a beautiful tribute to one man's love of his mother and reading, and I consider it a must-read book.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


Beth F said...

Wow! I was unsure about this book, but seeing how much it affected you has made me reconsider.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Yes I have seen this one around, but I wasn't much sure I could handle a book about someone finding joy while they are dying. That is just asking for a month or so of depression. But I will try to take a better attitude, learn some valuable lessons and stuff. I'm off to see if I can get this at the library.

bermudaonion said...

My mom is healthy but we read many of the same books and discuss them now. I can see how meaningful the same process would be when someone's fighting a terminal disease like that. This sounds like a really special book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I am definitely scared of reading this one!

Serena said...

This would certainly be a tough read.

Mrs. Melissa said...

This is on my hold list for the library but it already makes me wish I would have read more books with my mom before she passed away. Reading about others' experiences before their loved ones pass away is a comfort and still helps me even thought its been over a decade each since I lost my father, then my mother.