Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Until my reading/knitting/talking weekend with the Nesties I hadn't even considered reading this book.  It's very clear from the premise that in this book a mother dies.  I don't do dead moms, dead sisters, or dead pets.  Those are three things I just cannot handle in books.  But one of my ideal readers (Jacki, who blogs at We Still Read with Jennie, my other ideal reader) told me it was a must read.  And then she loaned me the book.  So what else could I do?

It's about a mother and son who decide to take on the project of reading a book and discussing it while waiting a the doctor during her chemotherapy treatments.  You know from the beginning of the book, as the characters know from the first moments of the mother's diagnosis, that the mother won't live.  The book is more about reading, however, than it is about death, which is what made it bearable reading for me.

Schwalbe is obviously a talented writer.  He managed to perfectly combine a beautiful tribute to his mother and her life with a focus on books.  He has a history in the publishing industry and you can tell he knows what he's doing as far as writing in concerned.  It's interesting and touching without veering into cheese or schmaltz like it would have been easy to do.

Entertainment Value
I love, love, love books about books.  That's no secret.  I held out on this one because I assumed it would focus more on the mother's death than on the books, but I was wrong.  The book focuses equally on books and their place in the author's family and on the mother's life which was an important distinction for me.  Yes, there are sad moments, but the focus throughout the book is on how his mother lived and how she passed on her love of literature to her children.  It distinctly avoids syrupy sweetness or despair.  You learn much more about how his mother lived than about her death, which I appreciated.

I loved it.  It's one of my favorite reads so far this year and it'll definitely be making my top ten non-fiction list.  Some of the discussion around the book (the Nesties read it together and discussed) revolved around the fact that the focus was more on the books than on the emotion.  For me, that's what made the book succeed.  I wanted to hear about what they read and why, not just about the sadness of losing a parent.  I felt like the author was amazingly successful at what he set out to do and managed to write something that celebrated his mother and her life, while also focusing on their shared love of literature.  Beautiful.

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