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If you love to read, you won’t want to miss “The End of Your Life Book Club” (Knopf). If you want to absorb some wisdom from a person who got the most out of life and gave back even more, read this book. If you want to meet a woman in whom the spiritual wasn’t just part of her but imbued in her every fiber, read this book.
Mary Anne Schwalbe was a remarkable woman both before and after pancreatic cancer made its presence known. She was the first woman director of admissions at Harvard and Radcliffe and first woman president of the Harvard Faculty Club.
Even as the cancer in her abdomen sapped her strength she worked to form a foundation to build – what else – a library, in Afghanistan, a country she visited nine times in order to be able to report on the status of refugees there. The anecdotes about her heroic efforts in refugee camps on several continents are merely the mortar in between the bricks that make us this exceptional work.
And when Mary Anne Schwalbe’s son Will writes about he and his mother reading books and sharing their thoughts about them, they create a fine a piece of literature.
Author Will Schwalbe acknowledges honestly that the “book club” is something his mother started unwittingly and he joined grudgingly.
The Schwalbe mother-son book club balanced reading new works and older ones, fiction and non-fiction, Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” as well as T.S. In their pages the two find insight into friendship, loneliness, fate, the effects of choices, the joy of thanking, benevolence, stewardship, anger, forgiveness, suicide, absolution, joy, death, kindness, aging, relationships, second chances.
A Presbyterian, Mary Anne Schwalbe kept “The Book of Common Prayer” handy and Mary Wilder Tileston’s 1884 “Daily Strength for Daily Needs” even closer. She succumbed to the cancer some two years after it was diagnosed, having bookmarked a page in “Daily Strength” that contained the quote from John Ruskin: “If you do not wish for His Kingdom, don’t pray for it. She tended to steer the book club toward works where Christian faith played an important role, her son wrote. The book offers insight to us all in how to talk with those ill with a “treatable but not curable” disease. That Mary Anne Schwalbe did enough while with the living we’ll  leave to her creator’s judgment.
But the story of the book club that she and son Will devised have left a remarkable gift for those of us left behind. The Hello Bar is a simple web toolbar that engages users and communicates a call to action. If you love reading as much as I do - and I know most of you do - then I'd love for you to get a copy and let me know what you think. She spent six months in Thai refugee camps, was shot at in Afghanistan, and was an electoral observer in the Balkans.
Will Schwalbe describes Mary Anne as the 'air traffic control' in their family, as the person who would automatically assume responsibility and control over others. The 'End of Your Life Book Club' described in the title encompasses the literary bond between Will and Mary Anne that is strengthened with Mary Anne's deterioration of health.
By reading this book you're invited into Will and Mary Anne's book club, and this is perhaps what I enjoyed most about it.


After finishing The End of Your Life Book Club this morning, I'm going to send an email to my local village bookshop asking them to stock The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro in time for my trip back home next weekend. Will Schwalbe will deliver the 16th Annual Sandra Goldberg Lecture on The Council on Palliative Care on May 7. Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing, most recently as senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books, in new media and as a journalist, writing for various publications including The New York Times and The South China Morning Post. In the opening chapter of your book, “ The End of Your Life Book Club” you write “that reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying” – please explain. One of the wonderful things about reading is that you can’t read a book without learning something – about the world around you, about other people, about our language, about yourself. You will be speaking at the 16th annual free public Sandra Goldberg Lecture, The Council of Palliative Care on May 7. This is a beautifully written new work that has an urging and urgency that will move you to read more books and better books while at the same time compel you to get up off your couch and do something, to both relish time with the ones you love and to be a person for others, a person who dares to help a stranger, even strangers around the globe. She was the founding director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children and deeply involved with the International Rescue Committee. The family had always discussed books and movies and the like, so when mother and son found themselves together regularly for hours both before and during treatments for the tumors in her pancreas, the question, “What are you reading?” came up naturally, and this unique, two-person book club came into existence.
Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”; “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson.
Ask not “How are you feeling?” but “Would you like to talk about how you’re feeling?” And, if you are thinking about sending a message to someone in hospice, do it.
It generally happens after I read something remarkable and I want to share it with everyone. It's perhaps best classed as a memoir, in which Will Schwalbe celebrates his mother's life and their shared relationship with literature; something which becomes most prominent following his mother's diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. She founded the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and persuaded the International Rescue Committee to set up a UK office. You notice this characteristic of hers throughout the book, not least in how 'Will's' blog posts about her health are in fact written by her. Before her check-ups and chemo appointments, the mother and son discuss the books they have both been reading. Not only could I join their discussions of great books, but I could also find recommendations of novels I'd perhaps enjoy as much as they did. I'm in need of some real, tangible books, and Will Schwalbe's remarkable book has provided me with the perfect ideas to start with.
Of course it sounds like a perfect read for book lovers.I too like the combination of classics and more contemporary books. I always enjoy books that present a love of literature through themes or characters, so this was the perfect choice for me. There are lots of interesting thoughts on sickness, health and the impact of positive thinking on the body. I came across the book quite spontaneously in a Spanish bookshop, and after putting off reading it for several weeks, I ended up giving in.
Not only does it celebrate reading, but the author commented on my review, which totally made me love it even more!


He will be in conversation with former CBC journalist Louise Penny at the 16th Annual Sandra Goldberg Lecture on The Council on Palliative Care, a free public lecture in a its series “Lessons in Living from the Dying” on May 7, at 5:30pm at the Leacock Building, room 132, 855 rue Sherbrooke W. We were both lifelong book-lovers, as is everyone in our family, and it was always a topic of interest and a way of discovering new books to read. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page.
A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit.
She spent a great deal of her life in education, teaching and overseeing admissions (including some time at both Radcliffe and Harvard University), but during her last two decades she dedicated herself to working with refugees worldwide. Towards the end of her life, her work to fund a library project in Afghanistan reflected her love of reading and her belief in its power to change.
In some reviews people criticise this side of her character, but I appreciated how Will wrote so accurately and honestly about his incredibly philanthropic and kind, yet always on the go, mother. As they choose to read (or reread) the same books together, their book club of two people is formed. When mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her life became filled with tests, visits to the doctor, and chemo. Books provided us with a way to engage deeply, when we needed that, and also a way to escape for a bit, when that’s what we most wanted. She was a trustee at Marymount Manhattan College and counted De La Salle Academy in Manhattan as one of her favorite schools. You'll have to let me know if you read it, or otherwise post about it on your lovely blog!
My father and brother and sister and I, as well as her friends, all took turns accompanying her to various appointments. And even though my mother and I were very close already, books and our conversations about them helped us get closer, even as her life was ending. I was very lucky that both my parents took a great interest in palliative care long before my mother got sick – as a result, conversations about these topics were part of our life, which proved a huge help and comfort.
And if growing is opposite of dying, and I think it is, then reading is the opposite of dying.
I’ve met many people who had similar experiences with sharing books and conversations about books – in palliative care situations but also throughout life. When my mother and I were reading together, we weren’t a sick person and a well person, but, rather, a mother and a son exploring new worlds. And people have told me they’ve shared a wide variety of books in these situations – from mysteries to romance to poetry to history. When we were reading, we weren’t just living – that is existing – we were expanding our horizons. I’ve also heard from people who have had similar experiences talking about movies or music or sports together.




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end of your life book club amazon



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