(I have decided that I will write about the books I am reading . . . if they move me to do so. This is the first, then, in a series(?) of – not reviews, but, rather, discussions with myself. I’ve always wanted to be in a book club but never found those people who wanted to read the same things I do . . . so, as with my love life and most everything else about my life – I’ll do it alone with my imaginary friends – all parts of my multiple personalities.)
I have not wept in months. But in the past 24 hours, I have twice burst into sobbing. Yesterday it was over the last chapter of Neil Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and ten minutes ago it was over the final chapter of Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your LIfe Book Club.
I know it seems ridiculous to weep at the death of Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Ann(e), when the entire premise of this memoir-esque is that mother and son share her final days discussing books while tolerating chemo treatments. It isn’t as if he hid what the book was about. One went in knowing the ending – not unlike Mary Ann(e) who always read the ends of books first.
Still, I lost it. The shared love of reading and books, the passion for changing the world, the connection between the two, his guilt, his life, all of it reminded me of my dear aunt Sissie, and made me mourn all over again for her. He writes;
“Even though nearly two years have passed since her death, I’m occasionally struck by my desire to call Mom and tell her something – usually about a book I’m reading that I know she’d love. Even though she’s not here, I tell her about it anyway.”
Yes. I still talk to Sissie, all the time. Nearly every day, in fact. I think I miss her more now than ever before, except for how much I missed her when her body was still alive but her spirit and intellect had already flown and she was someone else.
This book is a 5 Star for me. It’s exceptionally smoothly written. Despite its subject matter it is never cloying, maudlin nor manipulative and – bonus – it has given me a few new books to add to the piles of “need to read” I already have amassed. I don’t know how I will accomplish all this in the next eight months.
This book is NOT about death. It is about life. It is about living and honoring connections and finding purchase in one’s own life by being there in the moment, soul to soul, with others. It is about family. It is about friends. It is about making the most and the best of what is, eschewing self-pity and fear in favor of soldiering on and counting blessings.
It is about the powerful effect a woman of substance, a woman who honors those she loves, who honors everyone she meets with her full attention and curiosity – the powerful effect such a woman has, the ways in which she changes the world and the echoes of love and strength she sends out, tendrils of joy and hope by simply listening and caring and being there – honest to goodness BEING THERE for people.
Read this book. It will restore your faith in others – it will make you want to reach out to those in your life (and we all have them, though they become rarer and rarer I think) like Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe. But be prepared to grieve for her, because by the end of this fascinating journey through her life and the relationship with her son, he has written such a powerful story that you too will have fallen in love with her and been touched by her presence – which is, itself, a fitting and marvelous tribute from her son – to have shared her with all of us.