Friday, March 6, 2020

The End of Your Life Book Club: Reading Literature As A Respite From The Inescapable

Learning that you are going to die in a few months’ time has got to be the worst dark gift a human being can ever receive. At least for someone that still has the penchant for life. It would be a completely different story for someone who is more than happy to meet his or her maker. An out-of-his-luck convict for example.

But for someone wishing to see the sun rise a few more times, hearing the news that death is waiting around the corner will be soul-crushing. Once you are dealt with the card, you have no choice but to play it. The end will come sooner or later.

But the good news is - if you can call it that – you can play the card any way you want. Your hour will come, sure. But you can do anything you want before that hour comes. You have the choice on how you are going to spend those remaining days, weeks, or months.

So if you are given a few months to live, how are you going to make those last months bearable and productive? This is the question that Will Schwalbe answers in his memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club. However, in this case, Will isn’t the one dying. It’s his mother, Mary Anne.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and with zero to little chances of beating the illness, Mary Anne knew exactly where she’s headed. All that’s left to do is make the most out of her remaining days. That means starting a book club with her son Will. Among other things, of course.

It’s a book club with just two members, Will and Mary Anne. They would exchange books when they meet. They would talk about books as they wait for Mary Anne’s chemotherapy sessions. They turned reading into a weapon in battling the onslaught of cancer on Mary Anne’s physical and mental well-being.

Will also takes the time to introduce the reader to Mary Anne. Mary Anne wasn’t just a mother. She wasn’t just Will’s mother. She was a mother to hundreds if not thousands of people. Mary Anne made selflessness a career. She has worked with charities and foundations that helped less privileged people in Africa and Asia. She has been to war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Sudan. A tough and courageous woman with a heart of gold. That’s who she was.

At its core, The End of Your Life Book Club is about acceptance, love, hope, and touching lives through selflessness and tolerance. Will painted these themes with books and literature as his paint brushes. Knowing that you are going to die is harsh. Knowing that your mother is going to die is heart-breaking. But amidst all that darkness, there is light. Follow that light, make the most out of it, and the final hour won’t hurt that much.

In many ways, The End of Your Life Book Club is a love letter to book lovers. As Will and Mary Anne discuss the books they’re reading or books they’ve read in the past, you’ll feel like you are discussing the books with them. That is if you’ve read the books yourself. You are almost forced to compare what you thought about the books to what they are saying about the books.

If you haven’t read the books they were discussing, you can take these as recommendations. Titles to potentially add to your reading list.

Note: The book comes with an appendix which alphabetically lists all the titles mentioned in the book. It’s an eclectic list (i.e. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Purgatorio, The Great Santini, the Bite of the Mango, etc.).