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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of…

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

by Nina Sankovitch

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4604122,586 (3.57)54
Title:Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Authors:Nina Sankovitch
Info:Harper (2011), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library (inactive)
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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"Even when I read a book where the story had nothing to do with an experience of my own, I found resonance from recovered memories, and an escape from the present."

A book a day for one year - that's the goal Nina set for herself. I picked this book up for the book suggestions but I read it for the insights. When her sister dies she thinks that all the things people say about it getting easier and how they know how she feels are lies. As she works her way through 365 books she realizes that books connect us to others and to ourselves.

"Not only were books carrying me away on escapades of new experiences but the people and places and atmospheres created by authors were also bringing me back to those times in my life where I looked forward to tomorrow."

February 2012 ( )
  mlake | Apr 28, 2015 |
When Nina Sankovitch lost her elder sister Anne-Marie to stomach cancer, she also lost the person with whom she most regularly shared new books and authors. Sankovitch, her two sisters, and her brother were lucky to have grown up in a home in which books were so appreciated, but now one of them would be missing from the conversation. It was only after three years of living life at a frantic pace in which she tried to live both for herself and for Anne-Marie that Sankovitch finally decided to try something different in order to deal with her grief. She would read a book per day for the next 365 days – and she would spend two or three hours writing a formal review of each and every one of those books. Believe it or not, she did it - Tolstoy and the Purple Chair tells us how she managed it and what she gained in the process.

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. ( )
  SamSattler | Apr 2, 2015 |
For LTer's this book is just a confirmation of something we already know, books are places we can go to escape the real world, if only for a few hours a day. Author Nina Sankovitch, along with reading a book a day also created a blog documenting and reviewing her thoughts on each book. In so doing, she became connected to people all over the world who shared her love of books. Sound familiar? She relates that through her blog "Threads of friendship entwine over the shared enjoyment of a book. If later a book is shared that is not so mutually enjoyed, the friendship survives."
Well, as it turns out, that by reading a book a day, usually around 1 inch in thickness, she is able to remember what she's shared with her sister and how she continues to live through memories carried in the minds of those who loved her.
Nice book. Little self serving but a nice way to get through a difficult time. ( )
  Carmenere | Feb 14, 2015 |
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 |
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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
In memory of Anne-Marie Sankovitch and for our family
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In September 2008 my husband, Jack, and I went away for a weekend, leaving our four kids in the care of my parents.
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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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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