The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe
You know how sometimes you make a mistake at the library, but it turn out to be a very good one?
I picked this up having seen it around a bit and had assumed it was fiction. In the mood for such reading, I grabbed it.
Upon realising it was actually a biography and a story of a man and his mother and their love of books I quickly needed to ‘shift gear’ but did so with joy. This is a lovely book. Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As they prepared for a journey of ill-health, treatment and dying, he and his mother decided to form a book club. They were the only two members and although had spent their lives reading, they actively read the same books and talked about them together, often during her hospital treatments.
It is a powerful testimony about how rich a life full of books can be, and how books can impact us throughout all stages of our life. At the same time it is a moving story about the close relationship between a mother and son and from his point of view, how he faced her sickness and death. It shows an obvious love for his mother, but also his respect for her as a woman who cared for others, being intimately involved with refugees, fighting for their rights and as the founding director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, as well as being behind the funding and founding of libraries in Afghanistan.
She was a believer yet it is written from the perspective of her atheist son, and it is lovely to see his respect for her faith throughout, even though he did not share it:
[about church] Mom adored warmly greeting her fellow men and women and wishing them peace. She loved the Scripture and the sermons and the music. But more than any of that, she believed. She believed that Jesus Christ was her savior. She believed in the resurrection and life everlasting. These weren’t just words to her. Her religion gave her profound pleasure and comfort.” (p95)
She steered the book club towards some books where Christian faith played an important role, which included Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It was only later, when pointed out by Will’s brother that he realised “Mom had finally succeeded in getting me to talk about faith and religion and even Bible stories, something she’d been trying to do for years”. (p189)
The devotional Daily Strength for Daily Needs became her bedside companion and he believes it is from it that she read her last ever words “thy kingdom come”.
By no means is faith and religion a major part of the book. It is about books, cancer and families. In some ways, faith only has a passing mention in what was her extraordinary life. Yet I loved those parts.
This is a lovely book, highly recommended. And, as an added bonus, you finish it with a list of even more books you want to read!