Title: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Author: Nina Sankovitch
Genre: Nonfiction: Memoir
Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives—if we only find the time (from Goodreads).
Thoughts: I’ve been meaning to read this book for FOREVER. Any I mean that literally. Ever since this book came out, and I’ve heard about it or seen reviews on it I’d always think to myself ‘This seems like a book I would really like. I should probably read it.’ But til now I never had! I did make some efforts to acquire it but my local library didn’t have a copy. I was this close to buying it once in a bookstore but I didn’t have the money. But Christmas came and changed all that and I finally got a copy as a gift! This was actually the last book I finished last year (yes, I am still catching up on reviews) and it was a great way to end 2013!
Nina has always been a reader. As a child of immigrants, she found it hard to fit in, and when she spent many a happy hour of her childhood happily ensconced in a book. But when Nina’s older sister dies at the age of 46 from cancer, Nina finds herself adrift, unable to grieve and accept her loss. When she finally feels able, she embarks on a journey to read one book a day for a year as part of the healing process, and discovers what reading can teach us about life, death, and moving on.
This book was great; besides adding several new books to my list to look up, I was touched by the story of Nina, her sister and the love of reading that connected them both. I also admired Nina- a mother to four boys her life was already much fuller and busier then mine and yet somehow she managed to find the time to read a book a day for an entire year. That’s 365 books! And while she did make the conscious choice to not read overly long books, it was still no easy feat. I know there was no way that I could have done it!
The lessons that Nina learns about through reading- grieving, living in the now, the importance of memory, and moving on without forgetting- are universal. I also enjoyed learning about Nina’s family, especially her parents and their experiences in WWII as young people in Europe. The death of three of her father’s siblings in one night during the war was extremely hard to read about, much less imagine what I would do if I was in that situation.
While on the surface this book is about, well, books, underneath it is really about what books can teach us. By reading we are able to experience different lives, situations, and opportunities which can inform and enrich our own lives. Of curse, the pure love and joy of reading for its own sake is addressed as well, and Sankovitch talks about the books she read- their plots, characters, endings, etc.- and quotes from a fair few. Some of the books she talks of I’d read, others I’ve merely heard of, while others I was not aware of before. Some books that I am now interested in reading thanks to this book are: Under the Frangipani by Mia Couto, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery,The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire, and Stitches by David Small, among others.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is about books, yes, but more importantly it is about life itself and how to live it. Which I think, makes it a worthwhile read for anyone.