Tag Archives: Will Schwalbe

Book Review: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe (3/5)

14 Mar

A few years ago, my book club introduced me to WIll Schwalbe and his love for books. I was excited to see that Schwalbe was going to be at the Midwest Literary Walk in 2018 and I had a chance to hear him talk about books and how they can change lives. I got a copy of his newest book, Books for Living, signed. I told him honestly that I was a little afraid to read his book because it would make my TBR so long. He responded, “That makes me very happy.”

Cover image via Goodreads

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Other books by Schwalbe reviewed on this blog:

The End of Your Life Book Club (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

“I’ve always believed that everything you need to know you can find in a book,” writes Will Schwalbe in his introduction to this thought-provoking, heartfelt, and inspiring new book about books.

In each chapter he makes clear the ways in which a particular book has helped to shape how he leads his own life and the ways in which it might help to shape ours. He talks about what brought him to each book – or vice versa; the people in his life he associates each book with; how each has led him to other books; how each is part of his understanding of himself in the world. And he relates each book to a question of our daily lives, for example: Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener speaks to quitting; 1984 to disconnecting from our electronics; James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room to the power of finding ourselves and connecting with one another; Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea to taking time to recharge; Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to being sensitive to the surrounding world; The Little Prince to making friends; Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train to trusting.

Here, too, are books by Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Haruki Murakami, Edna Lewis, E. B. White, and Hanya Yanagihara, among many others. A treasure of a book for everyone who loves books, loves reading, and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What are you reading?”

This book reads like a list of book recommendations and Schwalbe does include an appendix of all books mentioned in the book. It’s an amazing ode to books that we love and that have changed us. I didn’t look at the list of books in advance and I got really excited when a book I’d read was mentioned. Of the 26 Schwalbe talked about, I’d read five and I’m in the process of reading another. There were countless references to other books I’ve read and loved and ones I’ve never heard of. And, surprisingly, I only added one book to my TBR. I know, I’m shocked.

My copy.

Schwalbe is very open and honest about himself and how these books have changed him. He talks about his life when he encountered the book and how it changed his view of the world and the trajectory of his life. He doesn’t sugar coat parts of his life and his faults. I felt like I knew him a bit after his first book, even more after hearing him speak, and now well enough to have a conversation because of this one. I wish he’d read the book, but nothing is perfect.

When I read the sections on books I’d read, I could relate to how they’d affected me and how they’d affected Schwalbe. Reading Lolita in Tehran y Azar Nafisi was a very emotional book and Schwalbe talks about the emotional impact it made on him. I remember I bought the book as part of a bartering agreement at a garage sale. I really wanted an end table and I’d pay the slightly higher price they wanted if they threw in a book. I read the book a few months later and I wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster that would come with it. Schwalbe is relatable in his reaction to books and how emotional he becomes when experiencing them. I’ve always been moved by books and it was wonderful to find out I’m not alone.

The one book Schwalbe encouraged me to add to my TBR was Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono. I was intrigued by the stories Schwalbe imparted about this book and how it helped him see the world differently. Sometimes, I’d like to come up with the magical option ‘e’ and find another solution where I didn’t think one existed before. Who knows, maybe it will help me in fiction writing.

Will Schwalbe at the Midwest Literary Walk on 10-March-18

I felt there were a few more recent selections than I would have liked. Of course, the book you just read has the largest impact on you for a time, but it’s not always lasting. I was a bit disappointed by this and tuned out a bit when he spoke about these titles. I’m sure this book would have some different selections if Schwalbe wrote it ten years from now. I guess I was looking for a bit more lasting impact.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jeff Harding. I got over my disappointment that Schwalbe didn’t narrate very quickly because Harding was a great narrator. There were no characters to portray in this book, but Harding kept things interesting and kept me entertained throughout the book.

Books about books are for readers. This isn’t a book for someone who casually picks up four books per year. This one was for someone who can’t seem to live without a book in their hands and shelves full of stories.  People who love books are changed by them. Schwalbe isn’t’ unusual in this respect and that’s part of what made his story strong. I’m just like him and I could write a list of 26 books that impacted me. It would be completely different and if we had any overlapping books, they would be for completely different reasons. And that’s totally fine. We can all love books and disagree on which ones or why. That’s part of being a reader.

Writer’s Takeaway: Readers talk about books. If someone is a reader, it’s unlikely that they’ll go through their day without mentioning something they are reading or have read. Schwalbe is a character in his own book. Characters that read need to talk about it. This applies to fiction, too.

Overall enjoyable but lacking great depth because of its format. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Will Schwalbe Finds Books for Living: What Are You Reading? | Narrative Species
BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe: A Review (Subtitled “Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life”) | powerfulwomanreaders
I Feel the Need, the Need to Read | Borden’s Blog

WWW Wednesday, 13-March-2019

13 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m getting so close to finishing Origin by Dan Brown! The story picked up and I’ve been reading it really fast to keep going. I’m excited to know this will likely be on my ‘finished’ list next week.
I started Thunderstruck by Erik Larson and made a decent dent in it with some long bike rides this week. I’m honestly thinking this could be finished in a week because of the amount of riding I’m doing. This progress will have to slow down when the weather gets better and I can ride outside.
I grabbed a new audiobook for my car due to some amazing progress reading (see below). I decided to pick up Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I was reminded that I wanted to explore this book by reading Will Schwalbe. When I heard him speak, he mentioned being part of a book club for adults that read children’s and YA books and how much his group enjoyed this one. So far, I have to agree!
I picked up a library copy of Demetri Martin’s This Is a Book. I’m a big fan of Martin’s comedy and I saw him live (gosh, was that ten years ago?) so I’m excited to see what he can do with a book of essays.

Recently finished: A big week for finishing books! First was Books for Living by Will Schwalbe which I finished because of a surprise trip to Ann Arbor (45 minutes for me) to see some friends. The drive gave me time to finish this one and get excited about my book on hold. Look for a review tomorrow!
I also wrapped up The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton which was a surprise and a huge hit for me. I loved the characters and their passion for writing reminded me of some close friends I used to write with. It was a feel-good piece for me, though there wasn’t a lot of feeling good for the characters. Review coming next week.
I was so eager to finish Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys but now I miss it! This was a wonderfully fun book and I’m so glad I added it to my TBR and was introduced to a new and amazing author. I’m looking forward to reading more by Sepetys in the future.

And reviews! The first one I posted was last Thursday where I reviewed Shannon A. Thompson’s Minutes Before Sunset. I don’t think I was the ideal reader for this one, but I read it quickly and enjoyed one of the characters a lot. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg. I read this book at just the right time in my life and it really resonated with me and gave me something to enjoy while riding. I gave it Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I feel it’s too soon to think of anything except an ebook. My next one will be Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. This is one of the last Book Calendar recommendations I have left and I’m getting excited about finishing the long list that amazing (and awful?) calendar created.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 6-March-2019

6 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I haven’t had as much time to read Origin by Dan Brown as I would like. Work has been crazy and lunches have been short to help squeeze in more training time before and after work. I feel like I’m coming close to a climax, but I have a lot to go still, too.
I’m enjoying Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and am moving through it faster than I thought I would. I’ll probably finish it this weekend so I’ll have a review soon! So far it’s only added one book to my TBR so I’ll consider that a win.
I’ve been flying through The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton and hope to finish it this week, too. It was recommended to me when I told a family friend about my old writing group. It’s giving me flashbacks to that group and I really miss my Novel Girls!
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys has been a really fun eaudiobook while I’m training. It’s a very escapist plot and when I’m suffering on the bike, it’s very needed! I still have a while to go on this one, but I’m being optimistic I can finish it this week, too! Wouldn’t that be amazing if I finished three?!

Recently finished: No surprise to me that after finishing three last week, I don’t have anything on here this week. Though next week it should be stacked!

Reading Next: My hold on Thunderstruck by Erik Larson came in so I’ll start it as soon as I finish Sepetys. I’m excited to hear another Larson story because he always keeps me so entertained!


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 27-February-2019

27 Feb

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Still moving steadily through Origin by Dan Brown. I haven’t had a lot of lunch reading time to move through it, but I’m finding as much time as I can. It’s nice to have this to turn to when a little time presents itself.
I began listening to  Books for Living by Will Schwalbe in my car. Since I’ve heard him speak, I keep hoping he’ll suddenly start narrating the book, but no luck with that so far. I’m glad this one is short after the last Amy Tan odyssey I was on.
I grabbed the next book off my TBR shelf and started The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. It was serendipitous because I grabbed the next book off my shelf to take on a train trip to Chicago and when I looked at what it was, realized I bought it in Chicago the last time I was there in 2015. Too funny!
I started a new eaudiobook. With all the riding I’m doing, they’re going fast. I found a copy of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, which has been on my TBR for ages. I guess with one of her books being made into a movie, more copies of her past books are available. Fine by me!

Recently finished: I finished The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan late Wednesday last week. It was a bit of a relief to be done with it, I wasn’t enjoying the middle of the book even after I enjoyed the beginning. The end was good, but I wish it had been more consistent throughout. I posted my review yesterday.
I finished Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson over the weekend while traveling back and forth to Chicago for a conference. I think I may take a break from YA for a bit, I feel a bit ‘teenaged out’ after a few YAs in a row. I also have to decide if I’ll finish the series, but I’m honestly thinking of not doing so. My review will be up next week.
I was able to finish You Are an Ironman by Jacques Steinberg with all of the bike time I had. This book was perfect for me to read right now and I’m so glad I was able to enjoy it while training for my 70.3. It was the perfect thing to keep me motivated during the first few hard weeks while my body was adjusting.

Reading Next: Since I’ve been flying through audiobooks on my phone, I have another one on hold: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I love Larson’s writing and it will be fun to have one of his histories to enchant me while I am riding for hours on end.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 20-February-2019

20 Feb

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m getting really close to finishing The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. I think it will be off this list next week and I’m so excited! This one feels like it’s been dragging a bit and I’m excited to start something new.
I keep making steady progress on Origin by Dan Brown. Right now, they’re in Barcelona and it’s bringing up memories of my trip there this summer and it’s helping draw me in more!
I keep moving forward with Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson but I’m feeling more and more that this isn’t a book for me. I might be YA-ed out after reading Green and Levithan. Maybe I should have taken a break before starting this one.
I began listening to You Are an Ironman by Jacques Steinberg and it’s been wonderful while running and biking. I think I’ll get through it pretty fast. The narrator isn’t my favorite (I’ve listened to him before) but the story is great.

Recently finished: I was able to finish Hunger by Roxane Gay and post my review on Monday. I liked the book a lot and I think it will make for a great discussion at my club’s next meeting. It made me a little uncomfortable and I think that was the intention. It’s hard to have your privilege called out and that’s what Gay did. It was eye-opening and I hope I can retain the lessons she taught. I was also excited to learn that she’d studied at Michigan Technological University in my home state. I talk more about this school in my review but if you’re interested and have five minutes, Google it. It’s very different (because of its location) than most schools I know about.

Reading Next: I’m ready for another audiobook in my car (finally) and have decided that it’s going to be Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. I read Schwalbe’s first book, The End of Your Life Book Club, for my book club (ha) and I got to meet him at the Midwest Literary Walk last year where I bought this book. I know it’s going to add to my TBR. I’m bracing myself.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk 2018

8 May

This is my third year going to the Midwest Literary Walk and it was also the 10th Anniversary of the event. I was a bit confused at first because usually there are two authors at one or two of the three stops. This year, each stop had only one author. After going to the event, I think they spent more money per author to get such high-quality speakers. Usually, the authors have some connection to Michigan but this year, none of them did.

The first stop was Will Schwalbe. He was the only one I’d heard of prior to the Walk. My book club read his book, The End Of Your Life Book Club (and discussion) back in 2014 and he’d fallen off my radar since then. Schwalbe was an amazing speaker and he’s a huge crusader for reading. His new book, Books for Living, talks about the role books and reading have played in his life. I bought a copy and added it to my ever-growing shelf.

Will Schwalbe at the Midwest Literary Walk

Schwalbe talked about how books help people. In a world where we’re overconnected, books readjust us. It gives us a single sense of focus. When his mother was going through chemo, books gave them something to talk about that wasn’t her illness. Schwalbe talked about the art of reading; when you’re so engrossed in a world that you don’t even realize you’re turning pages and holding a book. He touted the excellent marriage of reading and napping, of falling asleep mid-book and spending extra time running around the book in your dreams.

The second stop was poet Ada Limón. Normally, I kind of daydream during the poet at these events. I’m not a big fan of poetry because I read too fast to enjoy it. However, Limón had me hooked. She spoke about her life and how it tied into her poetry and how she was able to explore how her emotions affected her work and how her writing changed her emotions. She was very eloquent. My favorite thing she said was that a different person writes the poems and reads the poems. People are always changing and you can’t expect the person who writes the words to be the same one who reads them. She talked about realizing what a poem was really about only when she read it in front of an audience. She reads them to herself when writing because she wants the poems to have the right sound, but she doesn’t read them aloud until they’re finished.

Limón talked a lot about female feelings. She said many writers mistakenly think that no one has felt the way they feel about something and how wrong that is because poetry draws from life. We’re all living and Limón was very open about her life and the things she’d experienced. I was happy to run into her as she was putting her mic away and shake her hand, telling her I’d enjoyed her presentation. Her latest book is Bright Dead Things and she has another coming out this year.

The final stop was another unknown to me, Michael Eric Dyson. He’s written a number of books about race in America and his latest book, Tears We Cannot Stop, has the subtitle ‘A sermon to white America.’ Sermon is an appropriate word! What an amazing speaker. I felt like I was hearing a preacher instead of a Sociology professor. I took very few notes because I was so wrapped up in Dyson’s speech. He had attended the previous two speakers and drew things they’d said in his sermon and used them to emphasize his points. He tailored what he had to say to the (largely white) audience and talked about how we need safe spaces to talk about what it means to be white and how we have to untangle that from what it means to be American. I’d go on, but I’d do a discredit to his message I’m sure.

Overall, it was a great walk. My friend Amy and I finished it up with some good BBQ. I think the only thing lacking for me was a fiction writer. I love hearing about the fiction writing process and that wasn’t there this year. I’m looking forward to going again next year, this event has always blown me away.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

28 Aug

This is almost a month late, but I’m really excited to share my book club’s discussion of The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Doesn’t it seem like an appropriate title for a book club selection? What do book clubs love more than books about book clubs? Probably cupcakes, but that’s about it.

Christopher Beha’s NYT review of the book says that,

…the book club serves here as an excuse for a loving celebration of a mother by a son.

This is a good summary of what the book’s about. It’s not about books; it’s about how we communicate about books. It’s about how we can show people we love them and read at the same time. As a book freak, this is a great message.

Because I like quotes, let’s jump into another from that same review.

To paraphrase Joan Didion, a writer is always ratting somebody out. A great memoirist, even one moved primarily by love and devotion, must possess a certain amount of ruthlessness — toward himself if no one else.

Didion actually said ‘selling’ someone out, but you get the idea. The later part of this quote is all Beha. I’ve seen this sentiment in a lot of memoirs we’ve read in this book club. If you want to tell the truth, sometimes it’s not pretty. We want to only show the best of those we love; the great things they did and the nice person they were. But there were days that person didn’t wear makeup or was grumpy or just needed to cry. Will had to show the readers that side of his mother, even if he didn’t want to. And even more importantly, he had to show when he was not at his best. When he was struggling to cope with his mother’s illness or just needed to be left alone. We can’t all be beautiful 100% of the time.

It was hard for Will to tell his mother he loved her. He would say he was proud of her, but struggled with the word ‘love.’ He also never addressed that he would miss her when she passed. I think these are two very difficult sentiments to express and I wish he could have done it and told us about it because I think his mother would have liked to hear it. They had a very formal relationship, where love wasn’t something  people talked about very much and was supposed to ‘just exist’ between people without being talked about. I wish they could have overcome this toward the end.

One thing in the novel that struck me was when Will asked his mother to explain all of his childhood memories: Turtle, forgetting to read to him, and her anger on Christmas Eve. This struck me because I think all of us would like to question some things we remember or think we remember from our childhoods. We have to make sure we do it before there’s not a chance to do it. I asked the other members of my book club about it, and they offered up a few reasons why he would ask. If it was a nagging feeling that Will wanted to get rid of, he knew he had to do it then. Maybe he thought his memory of the event was different and wanted to see her view on the same moment. We have one member who learned in her adult years that her childhood cat who had ‘run away’ was actually driven into the country and left there because her brother was allergic. Sometimes we can only remember what we’re told.

Mary Anne encouraged Will to quit his job numerous times. We wondered if she would have still done this if she’d not been dying. Was it her projecting an end-of-life carpe diem, or was this Mary Anne all the time? By the end of the book, we think that this was how Mary Anne approached life and she would have done this in 100% health. But the question is if Will would have listened to her in health, or if he needed his mother to be at the end of her rope to listen to such extreme advice.

A few of our members saw Mary Anne as a control freak, which had not occurred to me before, but I understand. She liked to dictate schedules and coordinate things, such as the Afghan library or what her grandchildren would do on vacation. Not knowing how something as major as her own life would end probably made her very anxious and made her want to control things around her even more. Even though she was controlling, she was also very accepting of things and people as they came to her. She found a calling to mission work from letters she received out of the blue and she was very accepting of her gay children when they came out to her. We thought this was a wonderful balance for someone to strike in their life. This continues to feed into my impression that Mary Anne was a truly wonderful person.

One of the things Mary Anne was very controlling of was the blog she and Will wrote on. She wrote the pieces and controlled the content. In some ways, she treated Will like a small kid, incapable of writing the content on his own. After talking about it, we concluded that she really wanted to write the piece herself, but writing it in the third person made it less painful. Instead of saying “I don’t feel well,” she could say, “Mary Anne doesn’t feel well.” It seems less like complaining and less self-centered. In the end, it didn’t bother us and it made Mary Anne feel better, which is the important thing.

We felt that Mary Anne was a woman who always had an agenda: a purpose. We tried to figure out what her purpose was during her time with Will before she died. We don’t think she wanted to give too much away about herself to her son. She was still a bit reserved about some of her personal life. More than that, we think she was trying to set a good example for Will and her other children. She wanted them to learn from her example of generosity. She may have been trying to impress her religious beliefs on Will as well, but I don’t think that this was her main goal. She wanted him to see that you have to give to get in return

Mary Anne almost seemed larger than life. She seemed to know so many people and be very close to a large percentage of them. It seemed a little outlandish to me. A few of our members are in education or have a relative who is and reassured me that when you’re in that field, you do know a ton of people. But that many famous and accomplished people? Well, some people are larger than life. And with her background in theater, it’s likely.

This book reminded us a bit of another book we read last month, Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. Like Cahalan’s story, Mary Anne’s illness reminded us how fortunate those with health care are. Without that access to care and means to pay for it, Mary Anne would have been much more uncomfortable for longer.

We talked about how Will wasn’t present when his mother died. As much as he knew it was coming, he left and took a shower. Maybe he wasn’t sure when it would come, but maybe he didn’t want to be there when it happened. The more we talked about it, the more we thought that Mary Anne would have wanted him to go home and take care of himself, even if just for a bit. His mother would have wanted him to leave. She was looking out for him and wanted the best for him.

One of the books referenced in this work was The Etiquette of Illness by Susan P. Halper which we thought gave Will very sound advice for how to deal with his mother’s treatment. We felt that the nurse practitioner in the story, Nessa was a good example of this. It was helpful for her to be there, even if she wasn’t talking. That was a good lesson for Will to learn as well.

One of the questions we had was about Will’s family after his mother passed. We almost felt like his mother was training him to keep the family together after she was gone. It reminded us of Nan in Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. Fortunately, Will is active on Twitter and I asked him about this.

One of the things Will and his mother debate is reading a physical book versus an eBook. A lot of us see the attraction of books; you can lend them, you can sell them to a store, and you can buy a book someone has already loved. Second hand books are like treasures. I’m a huge believer in second-hand books and I’ll frequently put my name in books as they leave me so that maybe someone might see it later and wonder about me. Another form of book I’m a huge fan of is the audiobook. One of our members listened to an audiobook read by Will and said it was great to be able to hear the love in his voice as he talked about his mother.

We liked that they talked about books that were important to them. This can say a lot about a person. Another thing we talked about was how they read. We all felt that they were really fast readers; finishing an entire book on an airplane ride! It bothered Will that his mother would read the end first. Only one person in our club reads that way. She said she can enjoy it more when she knows where a story is going and will read the end before she’s fifty pages into a book. It helps her enjoy it, much like Mary Anne.

There’s a quote on page 41 about choices that we discussed. Will had just finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in this scene.

We found ourselves discussing the three kinds of fateful choices that exist in the two books: the ones characters make knowing that they can never be undone; the ones they make thinking they can but learn they can’t; and the ones they make thinking they can’t and only later come to understand, when it’s too late, when “nothing can be undone,” that they could have.

We wondered if there were any choices Mary Anne made in the book that could have been undone. We think she believed that there were things that couldn’t be ‘unsaid’ once they were out of your mouth, but there wasn’t much in her story that was a choice. The only thing we could think of was how quickly her illness was attributed to a virus she picked up abroad. If that had been undone, her disease would have been caught earlier.

We asked who this book should be recommended to. I have a friend whose mother is suffering from cancer, but has recovered well. I wonder what she’d make of it. My mother-in-law is also a cancer survivor who has a best friend and fellow book lover she leaned on in those hard times. She might enjoy this as well. We agreed that avid readers might like the message; that a good story can transport you, connect you with other people, and be a good friend when you need it. We had one member comment that it was hard for her to read this after a good friend had died of cancer. I think there’s a balance of those with no relation to a cancer death and those with too much to be able to enjoy this book.

The sad thing is that by the time you’ve read this, the group has already met again. I’m a terrible person. It also means that I’m in grad school! Ahhh! I hope to keep updating as frequently.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 13-August-2014

13 Aug

I’m proud to say I made the progress I promised for MizB’s WWW meme. All the books are progressing nicely; hopefully there will be progress next week, too.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’m still making slow progress on  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I’m really not surprised, because I keep this to be my ‘slowly yet surely’ book. It’s living up to its name. I promised to say I made progress on it yesterday because Katherine takes forever to try on clothes at H&M! My carpool buddy and I are almost done with Looking for Alaska by John Green. He’s already ‘John Greened’ us and I’m curious to see how this will end. While I wait for my next audiobook to get in, I’m listening to Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. I thought I’d put this aside soon, but the audiobooks I have on hold are taking forever to get in! I’ve only got a few minutes left, so this should be off the list soon. I started reading Canada by Richard Ford. It’s been on the top of my TBR pile for a long time, so it’s good to get this one off. The way it was on my shelf, the huge picture of the author on the back looked like he was watching you while you watched TV on the couch. I think my husband’s glad it moved.

Recently finished: Just one finished this week: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I stayed up late to finish this one but it was sooo worth it!

I’ve been trying to get through my backlog of reviews, so go check out my review The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.

Reading Next:  Same as last week because nothing came in at the library: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio, Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors, and Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Keep your fingers crossed that something turns up soon!

I’m hoping to finish ‘Alaska’ and ‘Leonard Peacock’ this week.’ How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (3/5). You already know how this ends.

11 Aug

My book club has been on a memoir kick the past two months. I’m not complaining, I love a good memoir, but I’ve been craving fiction! That might have influenced how I felt about this book.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Mary Anne Schwalbe was never one to sit still. She was darting around the world, trying to bring aid to orphans in Oceania or building a school in Afghanistan. Being sick was never an issue; until that illness was Pancreatic cancer, but even then, it was just a slow-down. Will uses the time when she must slow down and sit for chemotherapy to talk to his mother about their shared love of books. Throughout the year and more that his mother fought cancer, Will and Mary Ann bond over books and characters; talking about ones that inspired them and ones they’ve been meaning to read for ages and ages.

“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.”

-Will Schwalbe

This was one of those books where on page one, you know how it’s going to end. The more I read (or listened to), the less I wanted it to end. I was in love with Mary Anne. She reminded me of my mother, mixed with my aunt and my mother-in-law with a dash of spunk. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the books they read, but her character and the loving way Will portrayed her kept me going forward.

Schwalbe gave his family and friends very realistic portrayals. Even the characters with smaller roles, such as his partner, David, had distinct personalities which leapt right off the page. I think his mother’s portrayal was an act of love because she was darling.

Mary Anne was definitely my favorite character. Her spunk and vigor were contagious and it got me thinking about what I would want to do with the limited time left to a pancreatic cancer patient. Strangely enough (or maybe appropriately), I would want to read, too. I have a long list of books I want to read before I die and I think I’d take the time to do it. Mary Anne wanted her legacy to be the Afghan Library but I think she’ll be equally remembered for how Will portrayed her in this book and her love of books.

I found the characters (it feels strange to call people in a memoir a character, doesn’t it?) hard to relate to. I think this is why I didn’t like the book more. I found a lot of their book choices unappealing to me and it almost made me feel like I like ‘lesser’ literature. Besides the children’s books, I’d read (only) the following:

  • Dave Eggers, What is the What?
  • William Golding, Lord of the Flies
  • Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
  • Steig Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father
  • Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

I used the appendix of the book but can’t recall exactly the ones they read together and those only mentioned. I’ve tried to include here the ones actually read. Considering that the appendix is six pages of entries, you can understand how my list of seven seems weak. I’ve never lived on the East Coast and I wonder if the culture of that side of the country is what kept me from the characters, but I felt a separation from their ‘normal’ that kept me from loving the book.

Will Schwalbe Image from the book's website.

Will Schwalbe
Image from the book’s website.

I loved the flashbacks Will took to his childhood. It was interesting what moments he remembered and left him questioning so many years later. My love of turtles attached me to the story about his large stuffed turtle. I also loved the anecdotes about his mom forgetting to read to him one night and how she reacted when the siblings broke out laughing during the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. I hope that I can think of moments in my childhood like this and remember to ask my mom what they meant before it’s too late.

It was hard to read about Mary Anne’s final days. Toward the end, I kept pausing the audiobook because I didn’t want to hear it and my husband said, “You know what’s coming, just finish it.” So I did. And it was rough and gritty, but it was real. There was nothing sugar-coated about her final days and I really appreciated that in Schwalbe’s writing.

The overall message I got was to follow my passions. Mary Anne didn’t let cancer get in the way of her passions; family, charity, and books. In fact, she let those guide her in her final days and helped her block out everything else. Maybe we all need a reminder to focus on our passions before it’s too late.

Writer’s Takeaway: Schwalbe’s characterization of his mother was excellent. I felt like I knew her, or at least knew ten different people she reminded me of. He wrote with love and I think that’s something fiction writers need to do as well; we need to love our characters like they’re our mothers. I can think of one character of mine that needs some love now; I have to find something lovable about her so she can jump off the page like Mary Anne did.

For the record, Will is pretty active on Twitter. I got this tweet from him when doing my customary #FF. I got a few more I’ll share in my Book Club Reflection.

I loved the character, but found it hard to connect with the lifestyle of the players. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe | Savidge Reads
The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe | Something More
Will Schwalbe: The End of Your Life Book Club (2012) A Memoir | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

WWW Wednesday, 30-July-2014

30 Jul

Some progress for MizB’s WWW meme. I’m reading too much. More accurately; I’m reading too much at once.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’ve slowed a bit on  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Mostly because the eBook had to be returned so I’m waiting for it to come back. This is a slow torture.. My carpool buddy and I are getting a slow start Looking for Alaska by John Green. We only drove together once last week because I was so busy so hopefully we can make some big progress this week. I’m speeding through  The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen. This past weekend I went camping with my husband and got to do the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else; read on the beach. It was glorious. While I wait for my next audiobook to get in, I’m listening to Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Soon this one will go on the back burner. My husband and I are listening to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs on audiobook during our recent car trips. We should finish it this weekend when we go on (another) camping trip.

Recently finished: Just one; The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I finished it on Saturday and had a book club meeting over it on Monday. It was meh. Review coming soon.

Speaking of reviews, I wrote some this past week! Check out Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Reading Next:  I’ve put two things on hold at the library: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio and Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. The Follett is a personal challenge and the Shors is for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

I hope to finish at least one more this week. Probably the Cullen and the Riggs. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!