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

Nina Sankovitch divides her life into two parts:  before and after the death of her forty-six year old sister, Anne-Marie, to whom she was very close.  As she approaches her own forty-sixth year, she realizes she must stop running from the grief, stop immersing herself in constant activity in an attempt to forget.  She decides to make a year-long plunge into an obsession she shared with Anne-Marie:  reading.  She will read a book a day for one whole year, using books not as “an escape from, but an escape into, life.”

Not content to simply read one book a day, she also resolves to write a blog about each book to add to her website, ReadAllDay.org, which she established in order to encourage adults to read every day, as we encourage children to read every day.  Even with the demands of a husband and four kids, she sticks with it and revels in every minute of it.  She chooses books about one inch in thickness because she finds that about 300 pages is the right amount for her to read in one day.  She only gives a book ten pages to hook her; if she isn’t riveted by then, she lays it aside and chooses another.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is her record of this total immersion of herself in other lives and other characters, in an attempt to understand her own life and her own character.  As she journeys with these others in their attempts to make sense of their lives, so she is slowly able to make sense of her own experiences.  She realizes the important role of memory in keeping her sister close, though she can no longer be with her in body.  Night after night, reading by lamplight in her overstuffed purple chair, she does indeed live into life, not escape from it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this journey myself.  It reminded me of what a powerful effect books have had on me throughout my life.  I relived my schoolgirl days when I used to read from morning to twilight under a tree in my back yard, surrounded by all my books (for some reason it was important to me that they all be there, like well-beloved friends I couldn’t leave behind).  I remembered how I used to pore for hours over the Scholastic Book Services catalog, carefully making my choices, and how excited I was when they arrived and my teacher handed them out (I usually ordered more than all my classmates).  I remember the first time I sat up all night reading a book, as a teen, so immersed in The Hiding Place one Friday night that I don’t even remember looking up till I saw steaks of dawn across the sky outside the window.

Great books and the characters in them have impacted my life just as much as many real people have.  I think a whole book every day might be too much for me, since I like to savor a book for several days after I finish it, reliving the great scenes, mulling it all over and deriving new meanings from words that remain in my mind.  But, like Nina, I know that a great book is a great teacher and friend, and now I have a new reading list to get started on!

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