image

The book is about the conversations the author Will Schwalbe has with his mother while she underwent pancreatic cancer treatment.

Mary Anne, the author’s mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007. For a span of two years she undergoes treatment at a cancer hospital in NY that included long hours of chemotherapy sessions. The author often used to accompany her mother for all her treatments. Most of the doctors give their verdict that the cancer has spread and the various treatments can only delay her eventual death.

During one of the long waits at the hospital, a simple question, “What are you reading?” takes the mother-son duo on to a wonderful journey of books for 2 years. The books they read are not are not serious kind books. They read all kinds of books, ranging from classics, teen adventures, poetry, love stories, tragedies, dark theme books and then they discuss the characters, the endings, the situations in the novels etc. So, the book club is essentially a 2 person book club where the mother and the son discuss about the books they have read. In the process the author discovers so many aspects of her mother that he never did earlier.

The very first novel they read is “Crossing from Safety” and the discussion is around whether one of the characters in the novel would be able to handle the situation after his loved one’s death. Clearly even though the discussion was about the characters in the book, they were indirectly addressing the aspect of how family members would be able to deal with the death of their mother, who throughout her life gave direction to everyone and was the hub of the family.

“Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying” is a theme that comes up in many of their discussions. One is not supposed to merely read a book and forget about it. One must constantly question, “What should I be doing to do about the themes mentioned in the book?”. May be you can be compassionate towards people that you encounter in your life, May be you can do just do your bit in addressing the situation, develop a better perspective towards life etc.

One of the reasons, the author gives, about choosing such a title,”The end of YOUR LIFE book club”, You don’t know what book would be your last book, what conversation will be your last conversation. So, it is more “seize the moment” kind of attitude that this book conveys.

Towards the end of the book, the author says this about his mom :

She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you choose—electronic (even though that wasn’t for her) or printed, or audio—is the grandest entertainment, and also is how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others. Mom also showed me, over the course of two years and dozens of books and hundreds of hours in hospitals, that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died.

It is pretty amazing that over a span of two years(2007-2009), despite starting a company and having a hectic schedule, the author manages to read about 100 odd books.It shows how much he loved her mother. Here is the entire list that are discussed in the book. So, just in case you happen to read any book from this list, you can always look up the relevant section in the book and see what the two member mother-son book club had to say about it and what they learnt in the process.

  1. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
  2. Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio
  3. W. H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” from Collected Poems
  4. Russell Banks, Continental Drift
  5. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, translated by Alison Anderson
  6. Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone
  7. Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader
  8. Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, translated by Natasha Wimmer
  9. The Book of Common Prayer
  10. Geraldine Brooks, March; People of the Book
  11. The Buddha, The Diamond Cutter Sutra, translated by Gelong Thubten Tsultrim
  12. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  13. Sindy Cheung, “I Am Sorrow”
  14. Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  15. Karen Connelly, The Lizard Cage
  16. Pat Conroy, The Great Santini
  17. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  18. Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame
  19. Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer; The Year of Magical Thinking
  20. T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
  21. Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  22. Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
  23. Esther Forbes, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In; Johnny Tremain
  24. E. M. Forster, Howards End
  25. Anne Frank, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
  26. William Golding, Lord of the Flies
  27. Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
  28. David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter
  29. Susan Halpern, The Etiquette of Illness
  30. Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  31. Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train; The Price of Salt; The Talented Mr. Ripley
  32. Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns
  33. Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler
  34. John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
  35. Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories; Christopher and His Kind
  36. Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat
  37. Ben Johnson, Volpone
  38. Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon
  39. Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
  40. Jon Kabat- Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living; Wherever You Go, There You Are; Coming to Our Senses
  41. Mariatu Kamara, The Bite of the Mango, with Susan McClelland
  42. John F. Kennedy, Profi les in Courage
  43. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies; The Namesake; Unaccustomed Earth
  44. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
  45. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, translated by Reg Keeland
  46. Victor LaValle, Big Machine
  47. Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand, illustrated by Robert Lawson
  48. C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
  49. Alistair MacLean, The Guns of Navarone; Where Eagles Dare; Force 10 from Navarone; Puppet on a Chain
  50. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley
  51. Thomas Mann, Tonio Kröger; Death in Venice; The Magic Mountain;Mario and the Magician; Joseph and His Brothers,
  52. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage; The Painted Veil;Collected Short Stories, including “The Verger”
  53. James McBride, The Color of Water
  54. Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
  55. Herman Melville, Billy Budd
  56. Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
  57. Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
  58. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
  59. J. R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar
  60. Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
  61. Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness
  62. Nagarjuna, Seventy Verses on Emptiness, translated by Gareth Sparham
  63. Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française, translated by Sandra Smith
  64. Edith Nesbit, The Railway Children
  65. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father
  66. John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra
  67. Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early, including “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?”
  68. Frances Osborne, The Bolter
  69. Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture, with Jeffrey Zaslow
  70. Susan Pedersen, Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience
  71. Harold Pinter, The Caretaker
  72. Reynolds Price, Feasting the Heart
  73. Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
  74. David Reuben, M.D., Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask
  75. David K. Reynolds, A Handbook for Constructive Living
  76. Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping; Gilead; Home
  77. Tim Russert, Big Russ and Me
  78. Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are; In the Night Kitchen
  79. Peter Shaffer; Equus; Five Finger Exercise
  80. William Shakespeare, King Lear; Othello
  81. George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan
  82. Bernie Siegel, M.D., Love, Medicine and Miracles
  83. Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The Miracle at Speedy Motors
  84. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
  85. Natsume Soseki, Kokoro, translated by Edwin McCellan
  86. Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
  87. Edward Steichen, The Family of Man
  88. Lydia Stone, Pink Donkey Brown, illustrated by Mary E. Dwyer
  89. Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge
  90. Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar
  91. Michael Thomas, Man Gone Down
  92. Mary Tileston, Daily Strength for Daily Needs
  93. Colm Tóibín, The Story of the Night; The Blackwater Lightship;The Master; Brooklyn
  94. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
  95. William Trevor, Felicia’s Journey
  96. John Updike, Couples; My Father’s Tears
  97. Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us
  98. Elie Wiesel, Night
  99. Tennesse Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
  100. Geoffrey Wolff, The Duke of Deception
  101. Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny; Marjorie Morningstar; The Winds of War
Advertisements