The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 2
Source: Personal copy
Objectionable material: None
In a tender tribute to his mother, Will Schwalbe writes of the final two years of his mother's life and their shared love books. In waiting rooms, pharmacies, car rides, vacations -- Will and Mary Anne discussed the many books they read together -- their very own two person book club, minus the refreshments.
Will's mother was an amazing woman: Radcliffe- educated, theatre trained, she went on to direct auditions for the London Academy of Music and Drama, was an educational administrator at Harvard, volunteered for months in a Thai refugee camp, founded the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and in her final years, raised funds for traveling libraries in Afghanistan.
I was a bit surprised I'd never heard of her.
I appreciated the author raising my awareness of his mother's accomplishments, her charity work, her friends, her love of literature and a life well lived.
However, I'm not sure if the author was trying to write a book club book, a biography, a family history. Or what exactly. In many ways this book was, as my friend Becca mentioned, a 300 page obituary with an attached reading list. There was no clear narrative, no clear direction, no clear focus. The books almost seemed an afterthought.
But my main issue with his memoir/tribute was its tone: Between the name dropping (they lived next to Julia Child), the overseas travel (we all could be so lucky to visit London and Geneva whilst undergoing chemo), the political slant, and overall affluence, the entire story was laden with pretension. My take -- if you get cancer it's better if you're rich, because you can still vacation in Vero Beach, and upstate New York, and have your townhome in Manhattan. Oh and lots of books too.
Ultimately though, in a world where mother's are berated in print by their offspring, this book was a generous outpouring of love for a beloved mother.