Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year In Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
Caught up in grief after the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch decided to stop running and start reading. For once in her life she would put all other obligations on hold and devote herself to reading a book a day: one year of magical reading in which she found joy, healing, and wisdom.

My Thoughts:
Three years after her sister died of cancer, Sankovitch realized that the merry-go-round she was on as she tried to crammed as much life as she could into living, caring for everyone left behind by her sister's death, wasn't healing her pain. She knew she had to do something different so she turned to books, something she had turned to throughout her life, something her family had longed shared a passion for, something she and her sister had shared as a way to make her sister's final months better.

In an effort to keep herself accountable for reading a book a day once she had set the goal, and yet not make the goal unachievable, Sankovitch set some parameters for her year of reading.  Her rules for her books:

1. No author could be read more than once,
2. No rereads,
3. She had to write a review about every book she read,
4. She would read new books and new authors and old books from favorite authors,
5. All of the books had to be books she would have shared with her sister.

She took over a room, moved in a desk and a purple chair and cleared away space on a bookshelf for the books she would be reading. She read books recommended by others and books she found at the library. Nothing could be more than 300 pages if she were to finish it in one day with time for the review and all of the other things in her life. Her boys and husband had to make changes in their lives to accommodate this change in hers. At times I found myself longing to do the very same thing. Other times I thought it was terribly selfish. It was meant to be her job, the thing she did in the hours while her family was away but somehow that didn't always work and her reading crept into her family time.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is much less about the books Sankovitch read an much more about her history with books and the ways the books she read helped her heal.
"...all the great books I was reading - were about the complexity and entirety of the human experience. About the things we wish to forget and how we wish we could react. Books are experience, the words of authors proving the solace of love, the fulfillment of family, the torment of war, and the wisdom of memory. Joy and tears, please and pain: everything came to me while I read in my purple chair. I had never sat so still, and yet experienced so much."
More than once I found myself thinking "I'm not reading thoughtfully enough" as Sankovitch recounted what she'd learned from certain books. Sometimes that I'm not reading deliberately enough. But then, it's not my reading is not my job.

In the end, Sankovitch found peace and healing from her year of reading and her book is a testament to the power and beauty of books.


  1. That's an interesting way to deal with grief - setting up the reading like it was a job, a task to be completed. I will admit that I've turned to books when grieving, but I think mine was more to hide away and not think about it. I'll have to check this book out. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great review, Lisa. I read this not too long ago and was a little disappointed when it was't what I expected. I thought it would be more about the books themselves (like The End of Your Life Book Club)

  3. I have a copy of this on my shelf I meant to read shortly after my father died. I found myself only wanting to read books that were on the lighter side and promised escape rather than deep thought and reflection, however. I'm sure having a baby in the house and dealing with Postpartum Depression played a part in that as well. I still would like to read this at some point.

    I do wish sometimes I could spend all day reading, forsaking my other obligations. Recently I kind of did ignore my family obligations to finish a book I was very involved in and while I enjoyed the time I spent reading, I felt guilty after for neglecting my family. I don't think I could do that very often and get away with it.

  4. I'm intrigued by the concept. I love the idea of reading a book a day for a year and really making it part of your job. I can see how it would bleed into family time though.

  5. I've had this one on my shelf for quite some time and after reading your post I'm thinking its time to give it a read. I love the idea of devoting each day to a book. I'm not sure I would get to review each one (as I never seem to want to do that anymore), but I would certainly enjoy reading them all. As for reading thoughtfully, well I think I only manage to do that with certain books. And when it happens, it most definitely enriches the reading experience. Makes me think I need to seek out more books like that.

    1. I actually think this book would make a great "purse" or "nightstand" book, something you just read a bit at a time. I can't even imagine trying to write a review every day, especially one that was really well-written. If I had to do it, I'm afraid it would end up being a bit of a stock set up.