Friday, November 09, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

The title of this literary memoir almost scared me away as it seems the ending is clear from the beginning.  Schwalbe has recorded with detailed poignancy the conversations he and his mother, Mary Anne, had about books as they sat in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 2007 when she was being treated for advanced pancreatic cancer.  His mother was a remarkable woman, having taken trips to war torn areas, and was dedicated, at the very end of her life, to building a library in Afghanistan.  The beauty of this book for me is in the book discussions.  I wish I were teaching The Kite Runner right now (as I would be right now had I not retired) so I could share the comments about characters and their choices in both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.  So many of the texts in this book are texts I am deeply familiar with from teaching AP English, and very they are dear to me as well.  Later in the book, they discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a post-9/11monologues of a young Princeton educated Wall Street employee who returns to Pakistan.  The ambiguity at the end of that novel is richly debated by Schwalbe and his mother.  Of course, this book reinforces my fundamental belief that we read, as human beings, to learn about the otherness that we may never experience first-hand - particularly the otherness of gender, race, birthright and suffering.  My favorite reflection in the book appears early: "Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying."  Wow!

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