“What are you reading?” Such an innocent, open question that you have probably asked your friends and family or have been asked by the same people countless times. This is a question that Will Schwalbe’s mother asked him all the time, as they often enjoyed the same books. When Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, this question and the resulting conversation began to take on more meaning. Will and Mary Anne started to pick out specific books to read together and plan to discuss during her chemotherapy sessions. This book chronicles not only the books that they read as Mary Anne battled her cancer, but retraces her life and the bond between them.
I read this for the book club that I help run at the library, so while it isn’t something I chose directly – it is a book I had been curious about. I ended the book with mixed emotions about it though. The first think I have to mention is that Mary Anne was an incredible woman. She had a very generous, hard working spirit that brought her to many war-torn parts of the world to do good things. I was very impressed by all of the things she accomplished in her life. That said, she and her family definitely seem to live in a privileged way of life that made her day to day life difficult to relate.
There were a couple of things that really bothered me about this book. First, I had a lot of trouble with the writing style. It felt awkwardly pretentious and awkward to read at times. I found myself going over random lines and rewording them so that they were more simple. Granted, I’m no editor nor a writer… but the fact that felt the need to do that says something. Also, I got really excited when I saw the list at the back of all the books and authors discussed or mentioned in the book. But many of these really were just mentions. It started to feel like name dropping book titles. Don’t get me wrong, I still added plenty of titles to my “want to read” list… but it irked me. Especially when paired with the actual name dropping that happened too.
I was very surprised that this wasn’t a very sad book though. It is a beautiful tribute to a mother and to the mother-son bond. I mean, it is sad and melancholy, but Schwalbe is able to keep the tone such that you are not devastated at the end (like I usually am with cancer books). I will be very interested to see what our library book club thinks about this.
The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe