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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of…
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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Nina Sankovitch

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4464023,454 (3.56)46
Member:almigwin
Title:Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Authors:Nina Sankovitch
Info:Harper (2011), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library (inactive)
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Tags:reading, memoir

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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch (2011)

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English (38)  Dutch (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Loved this book about a woman's journey dealing with the death of her sister through reading a book every day for an entire year. ( )
  What_Katie_Read | Dec 1, 2014 |
When Nina Sankovitch lost her eldest sister to cancer, she grieved for a long time. However when she turned forty six, she decided to stop her grief by reading. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is the memoir of a year of reading, dealing with loss and loving books. Reading a book a day Nina learned about the magical healing powers of books.

I started reading this book as soon as a finished Ex Libris; I wanted to continue in the joys of personal essays about reading and thought this one would be a good choice. While there is a lot of beauty in the writing, especially in the tender moments about her sister and dealing with her death, something just was not quite right. I spent a lot of time thinking about why this book did not work for me; I just could not put my finger on what was causing the problem. Then I realised this book is just a repetitive conversion narrative.

What I mean by conversion narrative (there probably is a better name for this) is something like Confessions by St. Augustine; where the author writes about all their problems and how they miraculously were saved. This isn’t normally a religious journey like Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert but it is often a memoir of a struggling person that found a way to heal and have a better life. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair has that same formula over and over again; “I was grieving and then I found books”, “I had another problem so I picked up a book”.

Then there is the overly ambitious task of reading a book a day; from the start of the book I saw it to be problematic when she wanted to only read books about 200 pages. Then there was a moment where she didn’t want to read her son’s favourite book Watership Down by Richard Adams because it was almost 500 pages. The whole idea of ‘quality over quantity’ came to mind; what happens when you want to take your time with a book?

In theory the idea of reading so much might sound good but there is so much practicality that gets in the way. Nina Sankovitch does explore these day to day problems but more so in a way where cooking dinner or having a sick kid is getting in the way of her reading project. I like reading about someone taking up a reading project and documenting the results but I think this didn’t work. If you want something similar try The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/11/25/tolstoy-and-the-purple-chair-by-nina-... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Nov 27, 2014 |
I was expecting a tale of all the books she read in that year together with some commentary about her life, something along the lines of [The Whole Five Feet]. Maybe her blog was like that (I still haven't checked), but this book certainly isn't. It's a tale of family love & loss, & everything that led up to reading a book every day for a year, & how books are woven into all of it.

It was much more beautiful than I expected. ( )
  Heduanna | Nov 2, 2014 |
After Nina’s sister passes away at age 46, she decides to read a book every single day for a year. It was an effort to process her emotions and find something to focus on during that difficult time. The book is really a meditation is grief and memories of her sister. I wasn’t quite expecting a book on grieving and though it was a raw and intimate look at what she went through, I felt like it wasn’t quite what it proclaimed itself to be. I was expecting a little more about the actual books she was reading.

I did love her thoughts on the importance of reading, the way it is both an escape and a way to ground ourselves. For anyone that sees reading as a permanent part of your life and something you love, it’s easy to see it becoming your focus when other aspects feel as though they are spinning out of control.

I wish she’d talk a bit more about the actual challenges of reading a book each day and how that affected her enjoyment of each one. Did she find herself craving certain books or wishing for a day off? Did she wish she could sit and read a huge novel over the course of a week, but feel like she couldn’t because she had to move on to the next one? Regardless, it’s an inspiring endeavor and one that it would be incredible to attempt one day!

“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 the happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 13, 2014 |
Nina Sankovitch lost her sister to cancer and immediately started running. (Metaphorically.) As if she could just keep herself and her family moving fast enough to somehow escape the pain and loss. As it sinks in that this isn't a terrifically effective coping mechanism -- an idea takes hold of her. Books have been so important to her for her entire life,, and important in her relationship with her sister. She will read and review one book every day for one year. 365 books for 365 days.

That sounds like heaven. Until I just now suddenly realized that I'm pretty sure she only read fiction. A full year of reading only fiction? Now I'm sickly horrified.

Okay, my own personal proclivities aside, I did really enjoy this book. Meditations on how books shape us, shape our relationships, shape our understanding of the world. How even "trashy" genre fiction can lead to profound insights. How processing the lives of others through fiction can ease our grief, remind us of purpose, and give perspective.

At times the depth of the author's grief made me wonder if I hadn't made a poor choice for a vacation read. But it was redemptive, in the end. In fact, I've already passed this copy on, to a friend and fellow reader I was vacationing with. (A chapter on lending and borrowing books with friends was perhaps my favorite chapter in the book. Thanks for the recommendation, Emma!) ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us. -- Frank Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollak, January 27, 1904
A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors. -- Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit
Dedication
In memory of Anne-Marie Sankovitch and for our family
First words
In September 2008 my husband, Jack, and I went away for a weekend, leaving our four kids in the care of my parents.
Quotations
It is that search for order that drives my hunger for reading mysteries. Sure, I find sparks of wisdom in a good mystery, but what I am really looking for are solutions. I'm searching for an order in the universe. In a world where, sometimes, very little makes sense, a mystery can take the twists and turns of life and run them through a plot that eventually does make sense. A solution to a question is found. The sense of satisfaction is huge.
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Book description
This celebration of the richness of reading will reward anyone who loves to read. Editor Review (reviewed on April 1, 2011)
This celebration of the richness of reading will reward anyone who loves to read.

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.

Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM Kirkus Review http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-rev...
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Torn apart by grief after losing her sister, the author, a mother of four, turned to literature for comfort, devoting herself to reading one book a day for a year, which brought much needed joy, healing, and wisdom into her life.

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