The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

July 16, 2013

end of your life book club Summary (from the publisher): During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne—and we, their fellow readers—are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing, and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us. A profoundly moving memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love—The End of Your Life Book Club is also about the joy of reading, and the ways that joy is multiplied when we share it with others.


  • Some of the books mentioned in here sound like they’re well worth reading. For example, Continental Drift has made it onto my “To Read” list, as has A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Bolter, Appointment in Samara, The Price of Salt, and Marjorie Morningstar. The snippets the author mentioned sounded very interesting.
  • I enjoyed reading about how Will and Mary Anne connected through books. I’m the only real reader in my family and often lament the fact that I have no one with whom to discuss my favorite books. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have that kind of connection with a close relative.
  • Mary Anne sounded like such an amazing person. Though I’d never heard of her before, just from what I read here I think Will was right to call her a trailblazer. Mary Anne did so much more than women of her generation typically did and it sounded like she had a very fulfilling, rewarding life.


  • The politics!! Why, oh, why do people include politics in a book like this??? The fawning over Obama and the grandstanding about national healthcare almost made me chuck my Kindle across the room. Yes, those views were a part of Mary Anne’s life, but they added absolutely nothing to the story. Would anything of substance have changed had these passages been omitted?
  • This will no doubt sound cold, but I thought there was too much focus on Mary Anne’s illness. I didn’t really want to hear so much about her chemo or the effects her cancer treatment had on her body. I get that the illness played a large role in the premise for the book, but once Will had set the scene, he could have just given periodic updates instead of the frequent blow-by-blow accounts he prefers.
  • As strange as this may sound, I don’t think Will did a very good job of closing the distance between the reader and his mother. Despite the whole book being about her and despite her presence on nearly every page, I never felt that I got to know her beyond a superficial point — like about the same way I’d feel after spending a couple hours with her at a dinner party. Will filled us in on broad strokes, but no details. As a result, I didn’t quite connect with her and couldn’t muster up much emotion when she died. That’s a terrible thing to say, but there you have it.


After all the hype The End of Your Life Book Club received, I was expecting an emotional, uplifting, moving tribute to a remarkable woman and the books she loved. I think this is what the author aspired to, but the work never quite reaches those heights. There’s much to recommend in it, including what seems like a fairly good reading list, but several fundamental problems as well. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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