"Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.”
Will Schwalbe comes from a family where everyone is always reading—and sharing their opinions about—a book. So asking his mother, “What are you reading?” was a fairly commonplace sort of question. Except that it was posed in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and his mother, Mary Anne, was about to start chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer. During Mary Anne’s treatments and while she is convalescing at home, Will finds that discussing books strengthens the connection between them and allows them to safely explore such sensitive topics as regret, dying, and faith. His book, The End of Your Life Book Club, is both an amazing tribute to his mother and to the books they both cherished.
Mary Anne frequently traveled to places fraught with political and biological danger. Most recently her passion was working with a foundation to build libraries in Afghanistan, and she had returned from her latest trip there feeling off-kilter. Doctors thought she had picked up some form of hepatitis, but when she didn’t get better additional tests revealed pancreatic cancer had spread throughout her body. This was a “treatable but not curable” cancer, so her treatments were designed solely to lengthen the amount of time she had left with her family and friends.
Will and Mary Anne start their book club of two by talking about Crossing to Safety, by William Stegner, and then On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan, followed by Appointment in Samarra, by John O’Hara. Other books are deftly woven into the conversations, creating a true feast for bibliophiles. I found myself nodding along with some comments regarding books I had read and jotting down names of others that sparked my interest. There was no methodology to the reading selections that they chose over the two years of Mary Anne’s illness. Instead, Will says that they read “dozens of books of all different kinds. We didn’t read only ‘great books,’ we read casually and promiscuously and whimsically.” It is a pleasure to read along with the Schwalbes during their journey and to be part of their book club for a little while.
Read more about the book through its website and facebook page, where there are also ongoing recommendations posted.