N Magazine June Issue

Page 94






N magazine

New York Times bestselling author and Nantucket Book Festival luminary William Schwalbe shares the story of how books brought comfort to his terminally ill mother.


“When you read a good book it changes you and

“Mom was such a practical woman, with an

becomes a part of your life,” says author William

incredible work ethic,” Schwalbe says during lunch

Schwalbe, “and it doesn’t just end when you close

at a café near his home in the West Village. “She

the cover. It lives on in your own life in so many

would always frame things in terms of ‘what can

different ways.” This rings especially true when con-

I do’ instead of ‘what can’t I do,’ even when she

sidering William Schwalbe’s most recent bestseller,

was very ill.” Mary Anne worked as an admissions

The End of Your Life Book Club, a poignant mem-

director at Harvard and Radcliffe, and helped found

oir about reaching out to his terminally ill mother

the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and

through books. Sharing and reading books became

Children and the UK branch of the International

a natural way for Schwalbe and his mother, Mary

Rescue Committee. During the last two years of

Anne, to process her grim prognosis of pancreatic

her life, she campaigned and fundraised to build a

cancer in 2007. At first, books were just something

research library and cultural center in Afghanistan.

to talk about during Mary Anne’s chemotherapy

When Mary Anne passed away, Schwalbe wanted

sessions. Then they went further, purposely choosing

his mother’s generous spirit to live on, and the best

books they always wanted to read or ones they had

way he knew how to do that was to put it between

longed to re-read someday. The Schwalbe book club

book covers. The resulting memoir is not only a

tightened their mother-son bond, and bolstered their

tribute to a life well lived, but an authentic missive

spirits through the long days leading to the end of

of love and courage for all families.

Mary Anne’s life.

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