Maybe it's because book clubs and book discussions are such a part of my life that I find books that use one as an occasion to present another agenda rather annoying.
My original group--now going for more than 40 years--discussed The End of Your Life Book Clubby Will Schwalbe last night. It is the account of the 18 months his mother Mary Anne Schwalbe took to die of pancreatic cancer, and the books that the two of them read and discussed while she was in treatment.
I didn't know what to expect. Two previous book club books, And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Santmyer and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, had been deeply disappointed. The first was more than 1000 page long and detailed a group of women who met to discuss books for about 60 years: far to long to be arresting, I thought. The second, about a group of young women who meet with their English prof during the worst part of the Islamist revolution in Iran and discuss forbidden books like Lolita, had more than I cared to read about the books themselves: I kept thinking I should reread the originals myself and see what I thought.
The Schwalbe book is as much a tribute to the courage and good humour of the author's mother (that's her shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer when she was in her mid-70s) than it is about the books. This time I think I would have liked to hear more about what they thought about the books and less about how gritty she was.
And perhaps, I must confess, I didn't want to be seduced into reading about approaching death. When you get to be my age, your parents are dead and your friends have begun to fall by the wayside. Books may be useful in dealing with these losses and in guiding you and others in that long last walk.
But, damn it, I just renewed my passport for 10 years because I want to take another sort of trip (more about that later.) Like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about all that other stuff tomorrow.
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About the reviewer
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more