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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading Hardcover – June 7, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
When Sankovitch lost her older sister to cancer, she was determined to "live her life double" in order to make up for her family's painful loss. But after three years spent at a frenetic pace, Sankovitch decided to slow down and rediscover the pleasure of books in order to reconnect with the memory of her sister. Despite the day-to-day responsibilities of raising four sons—and the holidays, vacations, and sudden illnesses that accompany a large family—Sankovitch vowed to read one book a day for an entire year and blog about it. In this entertaining bibliophile's dream, Sankovitch (who launched ReadAllDay.org and was profiled in the New York Times) found that her "year of magical reading" was "not a way to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it." As well as being an homage to her sister and their family of readers, Sankovitch's memoir speaks to the power that books can have over our daily lives. Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another. (June)
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Starred Kirkus Review
This is a far better book than one might expect from the categories into which it seems to fall. It initially seems like a book in which the author commits to reading the encyclopedia, the Bible or some other exhaustive work, only in this case the challenge is to read, and review, a book per day for a full year. Yet the impetus fits this into a separate category of mourning memoirs, for it was the death of the author’s sister that inspired her regimen. Ultimately, the results transcend categories, comparisons and matters of marketing, because what Sankovitch has accomplished in her first book is not only to celebrate the transformational, even healing, powers of reading, but to give the reader a feeling of reading those books as well, through the eyes of an astute reader. Her choices are eclectic, international, unpredictable (even by her), the main mandate being that each is manageable enough to be read in a day. Avoiding the tedium of a diary, the author deals with the books thematically in chapters that focus on love, death, family, even the joys of reading, as she skillfully interweaves a memoir of growing up in a bookish immigrant family and developing a complicated, loving relationship with her oldest sister. After cancer claimed her sister at the age of 46, Sankovitch plunged into relentless activity—“I was scared of living a life not worth the living.” But hyperactivity failed to ease her mourning, so on her own 46th birthday, she dedicated herself to reading, not as a simple escape, but “as an escape back to life.
”Intelligent, insightful and eloquent, Sankovitch takes the leader on the literary journey, demonstrating how after “trying to anaesthetize myself from what I’d lost…I’d finally stopped running away.” As a bonus, even the well-read reader will be inspired to explore some of the books from this magical year.
"Outstanding Debuts of 2011... Intelligent, insightful and eloquent, Sankovitch takes the reader on the literary journey."
--Kirkus Review, Starred Review
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair will transport you to a time before texts and tweets. Through the stories of her own family, Nina Sankovitch shows how books have the power to refresh, renew, and even heal us. I loved this memoir.” (Julie Klam, author of You Had Me at Woof )
“Nina Sankovitch has crafted a dazzling memoir that reminds us of the most primal function of literature—to heal, to nurture and to connect us to our truest selves.” (Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between us )
“[An] entertaining bibliophile’s dream…Sankovitch’s memoir speaks to the power that books can have over our daily lives. Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another.” (Publishers Weekly )
“What Sankovitch has accomplished in her first book is not only to celebrate the transformational, even healing, powers of reading, but to give the reader a feeling of reading those books as well, through the eyes of an astute reader.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair masterfully weaves beloved and sometimes surprising books into central events in the writer’s life. There is much to learn from this moving book. Sankovitch writes with intelligence and honesty, leading us to respond in a similar manner.” (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of One Amazing Thing )
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is original, uplifting and very moving: a unique celebration of life, love and literature.” (S. J. Bolton, author of Now You See Me )
A grieving woman decides to read one book a day for a year. Anyone who has ever sought refuge in literature will identify.
(listed as one of "Ten Titles to Pick Up Now"), June 2011.
"...a beautifully fluid, reflective, and astute memoir that gracefully combines affecting family history-her parents immigrated to America after surviving WWII in Belgium and Poland-with expert testimony about how books open our minds to ‘the complexity and entirety of the human experience.' Sankovitch's reading list in all its dazzling variety is top-notch, and every ardent reader will find her perceptive thoughts about stories, remembrance, resilience, and ‘book bliss' incisive and affirming."
"In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, her affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books and reading, Sankovitch gracefully acknowledges that her year of reading was an escape into the healing sanctuary of books, where she learned how to move beyond recuperation to living."
Top customer reviews
From the beginning, Sankovitch set a few firm rules for herself:
• She would read only one book per author,
• She would not re-read any books she had already read,
• She would limit her choices to books that were no more than one inch thick, ensuring that they would, for the most part, be in the range of 250-300 pages each,
• And she would only read the kind of books she and Anne-Marie would have likely enjoyed together if her sister were still alive.
In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch devotes time to Anne-Marie’s story, to what it was like growing up in her family, to how she dealt with her sister’s death both before and after beginning her reading year, and to many of the 365 books she read that year. Reading enthusiasts will be intrigued by the book choices that Sankovitch made during the year, as well as by how often, and how regularly, she was able to find something in those books that spoke to her personally about the grieving process. Readers seeking new ideas about dealing with the grief associated with the loss of a family member are likely to be equally enthusiastic about the Tolstoy and the Purple Chair because Sankovitch is frank and open about her own experiences following Anne-Marie’s death – starting with the question that so often haunted her: “Why do I deserve to live?”
Coming in to her year of reading, Sankovitch knew exactly how lucky she was that her family was willing to support her effort to find comfort through such a time-consuming project. As she says in the book’s second chapter:
“For years, books had offered me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more…I was trusting books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.”
She found what she was searching for.
This is the author's memoir about her project to read one book a day for an entire year. Sankovitch explains how after tragically losing her sister to cancer, she went for some time doing anything and everything to keep herself busy, not wanting to face those emotions of grief, loss and the like. Eventually though she comes to a point where she admits she can't live like that anymore or she's bound to break, physically and emotionally. Remembering how her sister and she shared a love of books, Sankovitch decides to embark on this project to read one book a day for an entire year, but with a few rules she gives herself:
1) No reading any writer more than once for the course of the year.
2) Pick all new titles -- No re-reading books you've already read previously
3) Must review everything you read
While she's not exclusive about it, Sankovitch does also incorporate titles that her sister especially liked -- as a sort of way to honor her life and memory. She also decides to go for books under 300 pages, explaining that while she is able to knock out a 300 pg book in about 4 hours, she is also a working mom, so she has to work the project schedule (reading, reviewing, trips to the library, etc) around her kids' school schedules, dinner and laundry, as well as personal time with her husband. Amazing how fast hours of the day can slip away from you!
This memoir ended up reminding me of another bookish memoir I read recently -- The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe -- where he talks about doing a reading project with his mom who was battling terminal cancer. While I did have a casual enjoyment of Sankovitch's story, I wasn't riveted. This may in part be due to some of the memoir bordering on TMI for me. I laughed at some parts (even through the ick visuals) like how she talks about trying to write up a review one day when one of her young sons is sent home from school with a surprise stomach bug. So she's trying to maintain this project schedule while cleaning out vomit buckets and bring down her child's fever. Then there's the night she's wrapped up the project work a little ahead of schedule so she tries to go "give some attention" *wink wink* to her husband, only to find him passed out on the couch, tv blaring. But the part that really had me cringing is discovering that this famous purple chair she did her reading in was not the one you see on the cover. Nope...hers, she describes, is "a muted purple with a pattern of flowers and vines." That's not what had me cringing though. No, it was the detailed description of how one of her cats would repeatedly tinkle on this chair to the point of it being so offensive in stench, no one could be near it for more than a few minutes. This was to be her throne of literary escapism. Blech!
It wasn't just that. Largely, I just didn't find it that gripping. There were parts I liked, parts that made me sad, and I left with some nice additions to my TBR. I'm content. Glad I read it, just not favorited.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair gave me permission to indulge. So much of Nina's struggle resonated with me. I too desperately need quiet and time for reflection to figure out my feelings and to learn how to live again.