Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beyond 30 - Book 32: The End of Your Life Book Club

You'll notice that I skipped Book 31. I just had to share about this one first. I have been telling everyone about it.

I had initially planned to focus any time for pleasure reading on the large stack of books waiting for me on my shelves - both the real one and the electronic one. I was already in the middle of one of the Sherlock Holmes novels on my Kindle app, when I happened upon a Barnes and Noble gift card that I received awhile back. I am usually that person that ends up spending gift cards on gifts for other people, but this time I decided I might as well get something for myself.

We headed to the mall, and I had every intention of getting Gone Girl, which everyone says I have to read. Then I happened to wander through the staff recommendations section, and happened upon The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Something told me I had to read it. And I didn't put it down after starting. I finished it in six hours.

This memoir is a story about a middle-aged man who starts a two-person book club with his mom while he sits with her during her chemo treatments. She has pancreatic cancer, one of the really shitty ones. Don't get me wrong, all cancer is bad, but this is one of those kinds that is pretty internal that they don't typically find it until it's already spread too far. Typical life expectancy is 3 to 6 months.

She is told her cancer is "treatable but not curable." Those are all too familiar words for me. It means that you have that cancer that's already spread so far that they won't be able to get rid of it. They can treat it for awhile and shrink, slow the growth of, or temporarily get rid of your cancers. But eventually they come back.  Decisions on treatment are usually based on weighing the side effects of the treatment and the quality of life they give you with more time that the doctors can get for you.  Again, all too familiar with this.

So while Mom (Mary Anne) gets chemo, she and Will discuss books. All kinds of books. He works in the publishing business, and she reads anything she can get her hands on. The chapters are divided by different books that they are reading, although a lot of others are referenced. And, of course, conversations about books lead to conversations about life. And death.

One of the things I love most about Mom is that she reads the end of books first because she doesn't like to be surprised. (I sometimes do the same thing.) The irony, which the author points out, is that the end of this book is an obvious one. She dies. There are no miracles here.

Throughout the story, you learn about what an amazing woman that Mom truly is. She has impacted so many lives both through her work in education and through international service work with refugees, and is this amazing example of courage and selflessness. Which of course, she would never admit to, which makes you love her even more.

As I was reading this book, I found myself doing something that I have never really done before, marking quotes in the book that I wanted to remember. Some of the quotes were from the author, while others were from the books that Will and his mom were talking about. I wanted to share a few of them here:
 "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." Mom, p. 58
 Finally I was able to catch her eye. Now I could tell her the thing I really wanted to tell her. But before I could speak, Mom's eyes grew wide and she said a word I'd never heard her say, followed by "I just took a worming pill and gave the dog my birth control." p. 77
Mom would often talk about a refugee boy she'd met in a hospital in Afghanistan. He was the victim of a land mine and had lost a leg. She said to him that she brought greetings to him from schoolchildren in New York. "Tell them not to worry about me," this little boy told her from his hospital bed. "I still have one leg." p. 165 
One of my other favorite things about Mom is how she gives books away. She thinks everyone should read. So after finishing something, she passes it on to someone else. That is something I believe in too. Why hoard the good stuff?

Pick it up when you are ready for it. You must read it.

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