Title: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair
My rating: 3/5
After the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch found herself caught up in grief, dashing from one activity to the next to keep her mind occupied. But on her forty-sixth birthday she decided to stop running and start reading.
Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, a mother of four spends one year savoring a great book every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. In the tradition of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and Joan Dideon’s A Year of Magical Thinking, Nina Sankovitch’s soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss,hope, and redemption. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.
“‘words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.’ That’s how I wanted to use books: as an escape back to life. I wanted to engulf myself in books and come up whole again” (Sankovitch 20).
I stumbled across Nina’s site readallday.org about a year ago and bookmarked the page to come back. After completing her memoir, I find myself exploring its contents more than I anticipated. Following her year of reading a book a day, I pondered what would that look like for me? Of course, I’d never hope for loss or pain to lead me to this escape, but more so looking at how I can I care for myself and learn more about me that I have yet allowed myself to do. When Nina first started, I couldn’t imagine balancing being a stay-at-home-mom with the work she describes as this adventure. Would I call for a sabbatical or consider being paid for an experience like this?! Not having a family at the moment, it technically would be ‘easier’ to manage however, I was jokingly advised to read only children’s books if I were to do this! That would not be setting myself up for a challenge or feeling accomplished. The rules Nina set out would be difficult but would be well worth it:
- Hardback books with a 1″ width (equivalent to 250-300 pages)
- 1 book followed by 1 review each day
- No repeat of authors, and
- No books previously read
There were times of repetition of narratives however, Nina added some context to each so that it made sense in the placement of the chapters. Of course, I was curious to see the full list of books and was overjoyed that the last few pages laid out each and every one over the course of her year of magical reading.
Quotes to stick with me:
“When we discuss what we are reading, what we are really discussing is our own lives…No topic is taboo, as long as we can tie it into a book we’ve read, and all responses are allowed, couched in terms of characters and their situations” (Sankovitch 210-211)
“My year of reading one book a day was my year in a sanatorium. It was my year away from the unhealthy air of anger and grief with which I filled my life. It was an escape into the healing breezes of hills of books” (Sankovitch 217)
“We all need a space to just let things be, a place to remember who we are and what is important to us, an interval of time that allows that happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness” (Sankovitch 221-222).