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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading Hardcover – June 7, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 148 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Review

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 )

O Magazine
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."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061999849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061999840
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Annie B VINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sankovitch had her read a book a day project down to a science--72 pages an hour to be exact. She also knew exactly what she personally hoped to achieve during her project--allow herself time to heal from her grief over her 46-year-old sister's death and find solace and understanding through the one thing that she'd always been able to count on: books. This was a reader on a mission and she meant achieve her goals of reading and writing about a book every day for a year.

While a great deal of the book does focus on the author's grief and the wide range of books she read during her year of reading, there's a great deal more to the book. There's history, family, community, and even humor. As another reviewer mentions, I loved the part where she followed the sun through her library's windows while reading in there all day. I also loved her description of the famous purple chair and was immediately jealous that I don't have one! I want a purple chair, or at least a chair that is all mine, just for reading. I'm also envious of the fact that her family was so supportive of her project. I don't think this would be true for most of us.

As a confirmed bookworm, I could completely relate to the book. I remembered many times during my own life where books felt not like an escape, but a salvation. It also made me feel like I am part of a much larger community for whom reading is living.

I am so glad I read this book and believe it is one of the rare ones that I will reread in the future. The book is so rich and has so many layers, I'm sure I didn't take it all in the first time. This is a great read for anyone who loves books or who is going through a period of grieving. Overall, a great book and one that has stayed with me and I believe will continue to stay with me for a long, long time.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Nina Sankovitch lost her oldest sister, Ann-Marie, to bile duct cancer at the age of forty-six it left a hole in her life so huge she thought nothing could ever fill it. Sankovitch, a wife and the mother of four boys, reacted to her loss by immersing herself in life, joining too many committees, being the perfect mom - active in her sons' school and other committments - generally keeping herself too exhausted to stop and grieve. Not an uncommon way to handle grief, not that there's a common way everyone chooses. Each person chooses his or her own way to deal with loss, whether it be death, divorce or anything one cares about deeply, then has taken away. For Nina Sankovitch, her choice was living a frantic existence.

After a time this way of living began to take its toll; she realized she had to make some changes to her life before she wore herself down completely. Being a life-long avid reader - a trait she'd shared with her entire family, including Anne-Marie - she hit upon the idea of reading a book a day for a year, not just reading them, but reviewing them, as well. So she set up a blog, ReadAllDay.org, posting her reviews, meeting other readers, and keeping a virtual diary of one year's worth of daily reading.

The books she read had to fit certain criteria: she couldn't repeat authors, the books had to be at least one inch thick, and they needed to be the sorts of books she'd have shared with Anne-Marie, were she still alive. Some of the books came from the library, some from her favorite independent bookstore, and there were some recommendations friends loaned her. And all of them, when possible, needed to be read while sitting in her favorite purple reading chair, one that smelled like cat urine.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I picked "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" up the day my grandpa died. I knew the author's sister had died and although I had no siblings to more directly relate her loss to mine, I was still seeking comfort while dealing with the shock and grief of suddenly losing someone I loved.

I was amazed at how deep in the heart the book reaches to one who is hurting. There are good, solid examples of ways to handle your grief, not be crushed forever by it. I am still thinking about the idea of actively remembering and keeping memories close at heart because allowing those memories to take you back also allows you to move forward. I liked using quotes from books as inspiration - "always within never" from "Elegance of the Hedgehog" is one of my favorites. "The weird world rolls on" is another. My favorite chapter includes author Bernhard Schlink's quote, "I realized it was my decision whether I would interpret the ending as unjust and unsatisfactory and suffer because of it or decided that this, and only this, was the fitting ending." The chapter includes mesmerizing stuff about mysteries, questions, answers, endings and some great things to think about (you can't control what life throws at you, but you can control your response). I didn't realize I needed the chapter beginning with "Once it perches on one's shoulder, guilt is not easily shrugged off" until I read it.

I really liked the reinforcements the author uses - specific, clear, heart-rending examples from her own life, yes, but also examples from characters in books I could relate to.
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