Schwalbe (co-author: Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, 2007) chronicles his book-related conversations with his mother after she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Books provided the author with much-needed ballast during the chaos and upheaval of his mother’s terminal illness. While they waited together through interminable doctor visits, hospital stays and chemotherapy sessions, they discussed what they had been reading. This became the beginning of the “End of Your Life Book Club.” As Schwalbe points out, the name was appropriate not just because his mother was dying, but because any book could be your last. Books provided an avenue for the author and his mother to explore important topics that made them uneasy. As his mother told him, “That’s one of the things books do. They help us talk. But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don’t want to talk about ourselves.” They discussed books not as a sick or healthy person but as “a mother and a son entering new worlds together.” Their reading list was diverse and cut across genres, generations and borders. Some of the books included The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, The Book of Common Prayer and The Etiquette of Illness, and the authors included Dennis Lehane, E.M. Forster and Thomas Pynchon. Schwalbe, who served as the editor in chief of Hyperion Books, introduces each of the authors with the insight of a veteran editor, highlighting their styles and strengths. Each chapter holds a subtle message fleshed out through their readings and discussions, and themes include gratitude, loneliness, feminism, faith, communication, trust and grief.
In a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Schwalbe illustrates the power of the written word to expand our knowledge of ourselves and others.