The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – Book Review

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random Houseox

For as long as he can remember, Will Schwalbe’s mother has been almost a super-human figure. She was Harvard’s first female director of admissions, then later the founding director of International Rescue Committee’s Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Nothing could slow Mary Anne Schwalbe down, except stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Even cancer didn’t slow Will’s mother down as much as it would most people. Still, though, there were those periods of enforced rest, the doctor appointments, the chemotherapy treatments. Will is lucky enough to have the flexibility and proximity to attend many of his mother’s appointments with her. When they are together, the conversation frequently defaults to the same thing it has throughout their lives: books.

The End of Your Life Book Club is as much – or more – about Mary Anne’s life with and death from cancer than about the books that the two read together. It is a chronicle of the last months of her life, a testament to her strength, and Will’s coming to terms with the way his family’s life will be forever changed.

This is an emotional book, and yet I personally failed to connect to it emotionally. I believe that this has more to do with the circumstances – I started it immediately on the heels of another extremely emotional book which also dealt with hospitals and death and I believe I was just wrung out.  Honestly, I also thought that the books themselves would be a bigger and more integrated part of Schwalbe’s story.

Although each chapter is given the title of the book they read at that point in time, the books themselves are discussed to varying degrees and do not always seem particularly important to what they are going through. I do appreciate that Schwalbe is trying to be faithful to what actually happened and it would be disingenuous at best to make individual books seem more important to this process than they were. I suppose the difference is that I was expecting more about how the specific books helped the Schwalbe family cope and The End of Your Life Book Club is more about how the process of reading brought comfort to Will and Mary Anne during Mary Anne’s illness.

People who have dealt with the terminal illness of a loved one will likely find much to connect with in The End of Your Life Book Club, even though I personally did not.

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Perfect Gentleman by Imran Ahmad – Book Review

The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West by Imran Ahmad
Published by Center Street, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

Both deliciously funny and deeply insightful, THE PERFECT GENTLEMAN is a beguiling multi-layered memoir that has touched the hearts of readers all over the world. At the age of one, Imran Ahmad moved from Pakistan to London, growing up torn between his Islamic identity and his desire to embrace the West. Join Imran in his lifelong struggle against corruption and injustice, and as he grapples with some of Life’s most profound questions. What does God do exactly? Do you automatically go to Hell for following the wrong religion? How do you persuade a beautiful woman to become your girlfriend (and would driving a Jaguar XJS help?) Can you maintain a James Bond persona without the vodka, cigarettes and women – even whilst your parents are trying to arrange your marriage?

Ah, The Perfect Gentleman sounded, well, perfect for me. I pictured a heartfelt memoir of an identity struggle. The structure that Ahmad uses for his memoir stymied me a bit, though. Most of the chapters were formulated to cover a single school year, often with surprisingly specific memories. This creates a narrative that lacked much of the cohesiveness that I expected and hoped for. Often themes are brought up that seem as if they might be important later in Ahmad’s life, but many of them fail to reappear in any significant way, although the very end of The Perfect Gentleman did tie a few things back together.

Ahmad is a good writer, but as occasionally happens with memoir, he and I simply didn’t mesh. The Perfect Gentleman is not the story I hoped for, and Ahmad’s humor doesn’t do much for me – perhaps I don’t do British humor well in print – although others may find his self-deprecating style charming.

I know there is a reader out there perfect for The Perfect Gentleman, but she is not me.

Buy this book from:
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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Mad Women by Jane Maas – Audiobook Review

Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond by Jane Maas, narrated by Colleen Marlo
Published in audio by Tantor Audio, published in print by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of Macmillan

If you reviewed an audiobook today, Thursday June 28th please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

America loves Mad Men, but was was it really like to be a woman on Madison Avenue  in the 1960s? Is Peggy’s story accurate? Joan’s? If anyone has the answers, it is Jane Maas. Maas was an advertising copywriter in the 1960s who grew to a great success within the industry, and she’s not afraid to tell it like it is (and was).

Thoughts on the story:

Here’s where I admit I never really got into Mad Men. I watched the first season, or most of it, on dvd, but was never really motivated to start the second season. Having watched the first season did give me a bit of background to what Maas discusses in Mad Women, but watching the show is not really a prerequisite to enjoying the book. Maas weaves feminist issues effortlessly together with advertising history and lore in an absolutely fascinating package. There’s quite a bit of sex, drugs, and alcohol in Mad Women, but it is in an attempt to set the scene and explain what was really going on, not in an attempt at being salacious, or gossip-mongering.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Colleen Marlo largely became Maas in her narration, she had the same mix of confidence and knowledge that comes across in Maas’s writing, making them a very good fit, and making the already interesting material all the more compelling.

Overall:

You don’t need to be a fan of Mad Men to find Mad Women intereting, but it will hold a special attraction for fans wondering, “was it really like that?” Although I’m sure it is still fascinating in print, Marlo’s narration is a great experience.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman – Audiobook Review

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, narrated by Abby Craden
Published in audio by Random House Audio, an imprint of Random House; published in print by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin

If you reviewed an audiobook today, Tuesday, June 26th please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Pamela Druckerman is an American woman married to a British man and living in Paris. When their daughter was a year old, the family took a vacation that necessitated eating out in restaurants every night. As most parents of a one year old can probably imagine, that didn’t go particularly well, particularly since they were eating nice places, not the the French equivalent of family chain restaurants. As she sat there, trying to figure out how to  keep her child entertained, Druckerman began to realize that the other toddlers in the restaurant were waiting calmly for their food and eating whatever was put in front of them. Since French parenting is not mythologized like their wine and cheese, it took her some time to realize what was going on, but eventually she began to pay closer attention to what the French parents around her were doing.

Thoughts on the story:

Bringing Up Bebe is a fascinating look at cultural differences in parenting, but it is not, strictly speaking, a parenting book. Druckerman is not holding French parenting up as the be all and end all of parenting, but as a consistent ideology that produces relatively consistent results, the results that are desired by these French parents. I can definitely see why this book has been somewhat controversial: many of the French parenting techniques are anti-attachment parenting, which is a huge trend in the United States at the moment; in addition, many of the stories she tells of American parents in Manhattan and Brooklyn are ridiculous in the extreme, and not really the norm of American parenting. Of course, since she is primarily studying Parisian parents, perhaps comparing them to New York parents of the same general social strata is, indeed, fair. Overall, though, Bringing Up Bebe offers interesting insights and ideas and is also fascinating simply as a cultural comparison of parenting styles.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Abby Craden does a wonderful job narrating Bringing Up Bebe. Her accents are good and her narrative style engaging, but most of all, I frequently forgot that I was listening to a hired narrator, and not simply Druckerman relating her observations. The ability to seamlessly blend into the story is, perhaps, the highest praise that I can give a narrator of memoirs. In becoming Druckerman, Craden brings this personal and parental account vividly to life.

Overall:

A fascinating book, you may want to have Bringing Up Bebe in print to refer back to some ideas, but I do recommend listening to Abby Craden narrate.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs – Audiobook Review

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, narrated by A.J. Jacobs
Published in audio by Simon Audio, published in print by Simon & Schuster

Synopsis:

After hospitalization for pneumonia in his forties, A.J. Jacobs realized he needed to get his act together in regards to his health, especially with his long-suffering wife Julie telling him that she had no desire to be a widow at forty-five. As he is wont to do, Jacobs decided to approach the idea of improving his health as an overblown project; not only was he going to become a healthier human being, he was going to become the healthiest person he could be, even the healthiest man in the world. With the help of an entire team of experts, and by concentrating on a single body part at a time, Jacobs began his transformative and, at times, all-consuming quest with an enthusiasm only he can muster.

Thoughts on the story:

It should come as no surprise that Jacobs was able to arrange Drop Dead Healthy in a funny and interesting way, that both provided a good deal of information and kept his story moving. After all, he has already done so successfully in both The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All. Jacobs balances funny, serious, and informative very well, and this is something that continues to come out in Drop Dead Healthy.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jacobs narrates Drop Dead Healthy himself and, while I wouldn’t necessarily advise him to make narration his career, he was the perfect choice here. If the author of a memoir is able to narrate with emotion and enthusiasm – but without getting overly emotionally involved in any painful memories – it often works well, and such was absolutely the case here. At one point, I was impressed with just how much enthusiasm Jacobs was able to insert into the phrase “Chapter 2,” and his verve never waned from there. He is open and candid, with enough ability to poke fun at himself that the listener doesn’t feel voyeuristic, even when he discusses his and his wife’s sex life.

Overall:

I love A.J. Jacobs and, having read his previous books in print, am certain that Drop Dead Healthy would be fabulously enjoyable in that medium, but his narration adds just a little something extra to the story that makes Drop Dead Healthy a must-listen. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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