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The End of Your Life Book Club

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  35,865 Ratings  ·  6,222 Reviews
An Entertainment Weekly and BookPage Best Book of the Year

During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging
Paperback, 326 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Vintage (first published 2012)
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Cathe This was a great book, I learned so much about people as well as good books. What an amazing woman.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sarah Piazza
This is a hard review to write. Because what's not to like about a mother and her grown son reading books together as she is dying of pancreatic cancer? The idea of it alone is profoundly moving.

But this mother, this son... Will Schwalbe professes love and admiration for his mother. What I read, between the lines and sometimes in them, is a son who feels his mother failed him, a son angry at his mother. His mother, he tells us, is a humanitarian and advocate for social change, especially on beha
Nancy Kennedy
Jan 22, 2013 Nancy Kennedy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Will Schwalbe began accompanying his mother to chemo treatments for her pancreatic cancer at Sloan Kettering. To pass the time, Mr. Shwalbe asks his mother, "What are you reading?"

Fortunately, Mr. Schwalbe and his mother had always shared a love of reading and enjoyed spirited conversations about their favorite books. While the endless chemo treatments proceed, and his mother's disease progresses, the two make their way through books of all kinds, from the popular (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Ag
Oct 22, 2012 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying."

This is an amazing memoir. Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, and she and her son spend time sharing books and holding informal book club chats, partly because they were both avid readers and partly to take Mary Anne's mind off of her illness. So it's a book about books, but it's also about the lessons Will learned from his mom.

I would recommend this book to any book lovers, but also to those who are
Aug 13, 2016 Holly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
The book discussions were cursory, at best. I hadn't intended to find myself reading a memoir of a parent's pancreatic cancer; call me oversensitive (and a sucker), but books like this make me FURIOUS! The author seems like a nice man and all, but what exactly is the draw for readers? It's his personal memoir and story of his mother, and it's actually really, really boring. The book club-thing is a gimmick - Schwalbe works in publishing, after all (i.e., he had connections and help getting it pu ...more
Jul 08, 2013 Claire rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I truly wanted to enjoy this book. I read this book for a book club and at first I thought it was a good choice. It sounded like something I would really want to sink my teeth into, however, I just did not find it interesting. It is appalling that I was 90% of the way through and telling myself, don't worry, she must die soon and it will all be over (I feel like a terrible person). I appreciate that Will Schwalbe's mother appears to have been a woman who championed many valuable causes and did g ...more
Eric Kibler
Jan 06, 2013 Eric Kibler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booktopia-2013
A beautiful book about the connection through books a mother and son were able to make it the years leading up to her death from pancreatic cancer. I lost my mother to cancer six years ago, and I really envy how Will and his mother Mary Ann were able to find a common language to discuss the questions of life, death, and the possibility of the hereafter.

I wish my mother and I had had that common language. And I wish my stepfather, through his own bitterness and lashing out, hadn't poisoned my pro
Oct 24, 2012 Nicole rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There were so many problems with this book. First, the author so worshiped his mother that the reader never got to know the real her. She was on the board of numerous international organizations that help refugees, orphans, and women. She traveled extensively, often coming home quite ill. She seemed to take this as part of her working overseas and refused to take the full course of antibiotics. (The author reports this as if it is heroic rather than foolish.) She also supposedly talks to everyo ...more
May 05, 2015 Alexandrea rated it it was amazing
An absolutely wonderfully written book that is not just the personal experience of Will Schwalbe. This book explores the power of books, reading them, discussing them and intagrating them into our lives and the lives of others. I think we all have an understanding of how important our friends and family are, but this book brings home the importance of letting those people know not just how much you love them, but how proud you are of them or how much you respect them and what they have done or t ...more
Tish Sundar
Jun 10, 2013 Tish Sundar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mari Anne
I started out loving the book and the story behind it... who wouldn't love a book about books. The whole idea of his mother dying of cancer didn't worry me as I am very much a realist about things like that. I LOVE to talk about books and I also love to read books where books are either the center of the story or almost another character (i.e. The 13th Tale, The Angels Game, Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society, The Book Thief, 84 Charing Cross Road.... I could go on and on). This one how ...more
This book is one hell of a journey; it is not always easy to read. Some parts are hysterically funny, and others are crushingly sad.

"The End of Your Life Book Club" details the final two years of Mary Ann Schwalbe, who died after battling metastatic pancreatic cancer. In the pantheon of cancers, pancreatic is one of the most deadly, especially once it spreads to other organs, the liver, in Mrs Schwalbe's case.

She is a woman unaccustomed to sitting still. She was an educator, a philanthropist, a
A loving tribute to life and to reading.

I want to tell everyone I know -- READ THIS BOOK! The book cover's flap has the best word to described this book: profoundly moving, joyful (in spite of loss) and a celebration of life, love and the written word.

I'm very fussy about reading non-fiction and more judgmental of non-fiction than fiction; very often I think someone wants to tell a story just to 'hear' themselves 'talk'. But this book was not about that, and easily earned 5* from me.

If you do p
Feb 09, 2013 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't often give books 2 stars, and I feel pretty heartless doing it for this one. But it deserves it. It maybe deserves 1, but I got some ideas for books to read, so fine. 2 stars. What are the problems with this book? Geez, where do I start? For having been an editor and...writer (?!) Will Schwalbe was desperately in need of somebody to teach him how to write. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could have written this book -- and I really don't say that kind of thing lightly. It was clu ...more
This was unfortunately, not what I thought I was signing up for, though it was not without it's merits. I was expecting a story of a mother and son saying good-bye to each other, but with a heavy focus on reads they shared and discussions regarding these books. In reality, there are only tiny snippets about books - rarely was it enough to garner any real interest on my part. So, if like me, you came here looking for a book about books, keep looking.

Things I enjoyed: There are many great quotes f
May 18, 2014 Eve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2014
“We're all in the end-of-your-life book-club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”

This is one of the most beautifully written memoirs I have ever read. When Schwalbe’s 73-year-old mother, Mary Anne, is diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, she determines to continue living her life at the same wistful speed despite grim life expectancy statistics. A retired teacher and active humanitarian, her son graciously introduces
Jan 13, 2013 Clarissa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I'm a cold person because I didn't find this book touching, or maybe I have discerning tastes and I can smell when a former publisher called in a favor to a colleague a mile a way. The two members of this book club are Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Ann. Almost from the get-go I felt no bond with these people. Mary Ann was an admissions counselor at Harvard, in addition to holding similar positions at other Ivy League schools in addition to doing all kinds of humanitarian refugee work in al ...more
Let me start out by saying this book was just not for me, and I went into it full knowing I shouldn't be reading it because I basically lived it with a loved one (without the book club, of course).

I wish I wasn't familiar with many of the drugs and their side affects, 4 FU (5 FU in the book), we had a nickname for that one, steroids, Ritalin, and lots of Imodium to name a few, as well as the frequent blood work, chemo rooms, surgery for ports, PET scans every three months and the waiting and pr

Dec 23, 2015 ☮Karen rated it liked it
I think the most underrated human trait is kindness, a notion reinforced when I hear about people who devote their lives to helping and caring for others. If everyone made an effort to be nice to one another every day... well, who knows? What made me interested in The EOYLBC was the idea of a son discussing books with his mother while she is undergoing chemo treatments. What kept me interested was his amazing mother, who seemed to define the meaning of the word kind. In her long life she helped ...more
Apr 28, 2013 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: over-rated
I imagine that a reader's reaction to this book will be determined by their expectations. I wanted it to be a substantive book about books. It was not: it was a lovely memorial to Schwalbe's impressive mother and a tribute to his affection and respect for her.

I wanted it to offer illuminating discussion between two people who used books as a therapy during a difficult illness. It did not. I am afraid this is a cynical reaction, but knowing that the author comes from the publishing industry, I f
Jun 17, 2012 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carol by: Anne Kingman & Michael Kindness, BOTNS
My sincere thanks to Alfred A. Knopf Publishing and Anne Kingman & Michael Kindness of Books on the Nightstand for the advanced reading copy of this book which will be published October 2012.

There is so much I'd like to tell you about The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe but this is one of those books you need t read yourself and take away what you will.

The title describes what we're about to read aptly as it is Will Schwalbe's story of the bound he and his mother, Mary Ann Schwa
Dec 31, 2012 Melki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition matter where Mom and I were on our individual journeys, we could still share books, and while reading those books , we wouldn't be the sick person and the well person; we would simply be a mother and son entering new worlds together.

Welcome to a most unusual book club where each book you read may be the last. The members are the author and his mother Mary Anne, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her disease is treatable, but not cureable. There will be no miracles; the most she
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Could this get any more boring? Or any more trite, for such a serious and sad subject as watching a loved one die? Schwalbe's mother was a passionate do-gooder, which is nice, but it gets really old hearing about all her causes. And she was a veritable fount of platitudes, which give the book a sappy flavor. I don't like the taste of sap.
The devastation the Schwalbe family felt when their mother, Mary Anne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was intense. But Mary Anne herself was positive. She knew it was terminal – they all did, but she was determined to have the best quality of life and time that she had remaining. She wanted to spend as much time with her family, especially her grandchildren, as she could, and that came about as she ended up having almost two years of life after diagnosis, which meant a lot to everyone.

As Ma
Jan Rice

This book is in the same genre as Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death but so different, since the author's mother, suddenly diagnosed at age 74 with pancreatic cancer, is of sound mind, if not body, when she sets out with the understanding her condition is treatable but not curable. The attitude is so different than that of Ezekiel Emanuel, who proclaimed last year in The Atlantic that he hopes to die at 75.

The appreciative regard in this humble memoir for certain objets
Lisa Rathbun
The book was all right. It was hard to relate to them. They're in a world far, far different from mine, elite New Yorkers who travel the world, head up relief organizations, and have the kinds of friends who can donate a million dollars for their designated charity group! Reading it, I also felt guilty because most of these books I've not read; as an English major, I want to be more well-read, and I'm disappointed in myself for not staying on the cutting edge of what is popular or well-known. Th ...more
Apr 02, 2013 JanB rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read, book-club
Edited to add:
Re-reading this book in March/April 2013 for book club. I was sick and housebound with a husband who was was woking very late so I re-read the entire book on 4/1/13. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. What a great tribute to books and reading as well as to his mother.

5++ stars!!
This book will be in my top reads of 2013. While the author’s mother underwent chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, he and his mother traded books and discussed them, forming a type of “book club”.
This was a fabulous read. I love to read and to be able to share my love of books with others and this was exactly about that and the relationship forged between son and terminally ill mother. It was one of those reads that made me sit back and think, WOW. Not only because of the love of reading they shared, but because this woman was a phenomenal person who changed people's lives, doing whatever she could to make things better. With even things as simple as a smile. This book made me want to do ...more
Susan Johnson
Aug 04, 2014 Susan Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent story about a family who loves books. The mother is diagnosed with cancer and she and her son start an end of the life book club. They read a wide variety of books, many of them I've read and many I haven't. It's really lovely to see a family so committed to reading. One of my favorite parts is when they are talking about a 55th year high school class reunion. It said they were old and had health problems but when they looked around the table all they saw was each other as kinderga ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I agree with the tip I received ---
BUYING the BOOK ---(not the kiddle)--- is a real treat. Its a book I want to own!

Its a book I'll open more than once.

I'm already reading "Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion ---(one of the books talked about in "The End of Your life Book Club")

I have several other books (I own) which I also have not read 'yet' which I now want to read (sooner --rather than wait) --

"Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner (I've read other books by him which I loved
Feb 03, 2013 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, audiobooks
3.5 stars is probably more accurate, but I'm rounding up because I liked this book a lot better than I expected to. I was lukewarm on So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, couldn't get through Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, and have become increasingly disenchanted with both fiction and non-fiction extolling the virtues of books as life-altering, magically transformative, miraculous, etc., etc. Even my most fleeting acquaintances are familiar wit ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • My Reading Life
  • My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
  • Reading My Father
  • Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home
  • One for the Books
  • Survival Lessons
  • After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story
  • How Reading Changed My Life
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book
  • The Long Goodbye
  • Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
  • Elsewhere
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books
  • The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History
Will is the author of The End of Your Life Book Club (Knopf 2012, Two Roads/UK 2012).

He is also the founder and CEO of, a recipe site featuring great recipes from many of the world's best chefs and cookbook authors.

Prior to that, he was SVP and editor in chief of Hyperion Books. He has also worked as a journalist, writing articles and reviews for such publications as The New York Times
More about Will Schwalbe...

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“One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. ... I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can't feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight.” 133 likes
“We're all in the end-of-your-life book-club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.” 119 likes
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