Debut Author Snapshot: Will Schwalbe

October, 2012
Will Schwalbe All you need for a book club are two readers and one book. Writer Will Schwalbe discovered this as he discussed literature, life, and death with his mother during her chemotherapy sessions for Stage IV pancreatic cancer. He captures their lively banter in his debut memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club. Schwalbe's mother, Mary Anne, was a tireless campaigner for humanitarian causes, including libraries in Afghanistan and refugee rights, and refused to be sidelined by her disease. He tells of his mother's uncanny strength to survive past her prognosis and how their shared love of books buoyed them both.

Schwalbe is founder of the recipe-sharing site Cookstr.com, former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, and an author advisor to Goodreads. He shares part of his inspiration for The End of Your Life Book Club and discusses what one should read—because time is short.

"I'm very proud of the work my mother did as founding director of what is now known as the Women's Refugee Commission, which is an important part of the book. While writing, I would often watch this video they made as a tribute to my mother and her colleague, Beverlee Bruce."
Goodreads: Many Goodreads reviewers found The End of Your Life Book Club to be uplifting, and one reviewer calls it a "celebration of [your mother's] life" rather than an observation of her passing. What was your goal when you began writing?

Will Schwalbe: I did indeed want to celebrate my mother's life and pass on to others some of what I'd learned from her. But I also wanted to celebrate reading and the role that books can play in all our lives. It always bugs me when I hear people say, "Why don't you put down that book and do something." Reading is doing something—something huge.

"My mother died of pancreatic cancer. I've been tremendously inspired by the work of the Lustgarten Foundation, an organization devoted to funding research and raising awareness of this disease, which is the most lethal of all cancers."
GR: Did your mother know of your plans for the book? What was her reaction?

WS: A few months before my mother died I told her that I wanted to write about our book club—about the books we read and the conversations we'd had. Her first reaction was to say, "Oh sweetie, you don't want to spend your time doing that. You have so many other things to do and to write." But the next day she sent me an e-mail with a list of all the books we read and notes. We never talked about the book I wanted to write again, but she kept sending me e-mails with additions to the list and topics to include.

GR: What books do you most cherish having shared with your mother?

WS: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Big Machine by Victor LaValle. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. There were so, so many—it's very hard to single out a few.

"I couldn't resist including a cute cat picture. This is Marcy Pants. We kittysat for her parents while I was revising the book. She was more of a distraction than an inspiration, but I fell in love with her."
GR: What is your take on escapist book choices? If you never know what book will be your last, should our book choices always be "good" for us—opportunities to learn something or understand something?

WS: I did come to agree with my mother that there are some books that are silly because the writer has nothing to say, or it's all just a lead-up to a trick at the end, for example. But I think that you can learn something from most books—and a book one reader might consider escapist reading could be life changing for another.

Just because you never know which book or conversation about a book will be your last, doesn't mean you can't read for all sorts of reasons, including for fun. I believe it does, however, mean that you should read thoughtfully, passionately, and even eclectically. And you should engage those around you, whenever possible, in conversations about the books you're reading.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

WS: Something very different.


Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Margaret (new)

Margaret The heartbreaking problem I had while I helped take care of my brother while he was dying of pancreatic cancer was that he was unable to talk at all without crying, and then feeling the pain even worse. Any time I tried to approach anything about our shared past, he turned away. We did have a difficult childhood...there were many serious problems and sometimes overwhelming poverty. There was not time to change anything now...and I could only guess what he was thinking during those awful few months.


message 2: by Mary (new)

Mary Margaret wrote: "The heartbreaking problem I had while I helped take care of my brother while he was dying of pancreatic cancer was that he was unable to talk at all without crying, and then feeling the pain even w..."

Margaret, what a gift you gave to your dying brother, your presence with him through his deep pain. You helped carry his burden.


message 3: by Franklin (new)

Franklin Wsill:although I have never read any of your books I look at the cancer situation. I have many people in my Facebook with cancers-children and adults alike and many authors, professional people like you. I invite you and any of your readers who comment to sign up on Facebook for a group of over 900. I write a commentary everyday on children's diseases, cancer-related news, health news. "Kidney Cancer Support Group of Michigan" I created in memory of our dear son who died from the terrible disease, kidney cancer. Anyone can email me:frankfriedman8311@yahoo.com I am a retired professor who wants to reach out to many. Thank you. email:frankfriedman8311@yahoo.com God Bless.


message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert I cannot think of time better spent than with a mother sharing a book.
This is a wonderful way to see a family member or a dear dear friend to their end or me, to my ending days.
Am going to call my favorite bookstore (Politics and Prose) and have it ordered. Maybe offer it as a suggestion for my bookclub.


message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Robert wrote: "I cannot think of time better spent than with a mother sharing a book.
This is a wonderful way to see a family member or a dear dear friend to their end or me, to my ending days.
Am going to call..."

Do that. It is a book for all readers and one that celebrates a mother/son relationship!


message 6: by Cheri (new)

Cheri I confess. I often start a book and then flip back to the end to read just a bit! When I read that tidbit about Mary Anne's reading habits, I felt an immediate connection! I am in awe of how much Will's mom accomplished in her life. I am also inspired by the quality of the books they read together. They set the "quality bar" very high for me -- and I'm a retired English teacher! I'll be reading from Will's list for a long time to come. Thank you, Will, for sharing your story. It's absolutely the best non-fiction book I've read this year -- and one I'll be giving as Christmas gifts this year to my reading friends.
Cheri Burton (my first posting to Goodreads)


message 7: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Thanks for commenting Cheri. I work in a great independent bookstore in California and have the advantage of getting many advance readers editions. The title threw me off a bit...it sounded like a bit of a downer. I read mostly literary fiction, but this one just grabbed me. I, too, will read some of the titles they discussed that I have never read before. Nancy


message 8: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Wow! Hi, Nancy! I live in Virginia. Isn't wonderful how books can bring people together!
Have your read THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye? I think that's my favorite fiction book of the year -- so far. It came out so early in the year. I praised it mightily to the B&N I frequent, but I couldn't see that it was getting any traction. I read her Sherlock Holmes novel first, and then GOTHAM came out just as I was finishing DUST AND SHADOW -- which I just loved too. I was primed for another book by Faye. I'm anxiously awaiting her sequel to GOTHAM.
I envy you getting books early. I adore JD Robb's books. How I'd love to get her books early! Cheri


message 9: by Hmp (new)

Hmp mohanedi malaka I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”


message 10: by Spry (new)

Spry baps This is a wonderful way to see a family member or a dear dear friend to their end or me, to my ending days.
Am going to call my favorite bookstore (Politics and Prose) and have it ordered. Maybe offer it as a suggestion for my bookclub.


message 11: by Robert (new)

Robert Hmp wrote: "I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don..."
Yes! I have friendships that are actually closer than family. I cherish them.


message 12: by Cartier (new)

Cartier teething This is a wonderful book..


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