Friday, February 13, 2015

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

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
by Nina Sankovitch
Harper, 2011
256 pages
source: purchased

Description (from amazon):
Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, a mother of four spends one year savoring a great book every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. In the tradition of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project  and Joan Dideon’s A Year of Magical Thinking, Nina Sankovitch’s soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss, hope, and redemption. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.


My thoughts:

This was a good book. Not drop-what-you're-doing-and-go-get-a-copy good, but a solid read. It was also a bit of a downer. I was expecting something along the lines of The End of You Life Book Club (my review), but this was much sadder - a memoir of loss and grief, rather than reading.
[reading books] ... was not a way to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it. Through memory. While memory cannot take sorrow away or bring back the dead, remembering ensures that we always have the past with us, the bad moments but also the very, very good moments of laughter shared and meals eaten and books discussed... Remembrance is acknowledging that a life was lived. 
Words create the stories that become history and become unforgettable. Every fiction portrays truth: good fiction is truth. Stories about lives remembered bring us backward while allowing us to move forward.  (28%)
Sankovitch read a book a day for one year. More than a year had passed since the death of her sister and she desperately needed to come to terms with the loss and get her life back on track. Reading provided the means.

Sankovitch read globally - a wide variety of books, many in translation, many unfamiliar to me. General thoughts about books are interspersed with memories of her sister. But this memoir is not about the books, as I was expecting. It's not a reading journal. In fact, not all of the books she read are even mentioned. (A complete list is provided at the end.) This is a memoir of grief, her sister, and family stories, with the books serving as a vehicle for recall.

I suspect I would have enjoyed her blog during the year she was reading a book a day but, despite some memorable quotes, the overall sadness makes me hesitant to recommend this book to a friend.

My rating:



Bottom line: Proceed with caution - too much sadness and not enough books.

24 comments:

  1. That does sound rather sad. I think I'll have to wait for the right time to read it.

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    Replies
    1. Kathy - It was...not sure there is a good time for a book like this.

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  2. I remember adding this one to my list when it first came out...the purple chair grabbed my attention, and I loved the idea of reading through grief.

    Years ago, when my older brother died mysteriously, when we were both relatively young, reading was not something that I could have done. Nothing seemed to work. But I love the idea of reconnecting to memories and moments this way.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - Using books to connect with personal memories was the highlight of the book for me. This is an extremely bookish family :)

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  3. I love the idea of reading a book a day and I love the idea of what I thought this book was about. If it had been more of a chronicle I'd be heading to amazon now to buy it. As it is I'm a little meh about the sound of it. Thanks for sharing! I may pick this one up if I see it at the library but I don't think I'll go hunt it down.

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    1. Katherine - I'm wondering if her blog was more of the chronicle and the memoir is the overview.

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  4. Too much sadness. That makes me sad. LOL.

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  5. That's a shame... it sounded wonderful!

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    Replies
    1. Audrey - There are some positives, but this book was not at all what I was expecting.

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  6. I thought The End of Your Life Book Club, was sad, but a great book. Since this book is even sadder - I would hesitate to pick it up.

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    1. Pat - Yes, The End of Your Life Book Club was sad, but also uplifting in a way. I didn't really get that feeling here... just overwhelming sadness.

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  7. First of all, how does anyone read one book every day?! Even if I had all the time in the world, I can't imagine reading (and retaining) a book every single day. I like to savor my books, whether I read for 15 minutes before falling asleep or 2 hours on a lazy weekend afternoon. Maybe I'm just a slow reader, but this would pretty much be impossible for me. And with that said, I can't imagine reading so much after the loss of a loved one. When our daughter died, I couldn't read anything for several months, well, with the exception of a couple of books on grief. Just read the blurb on Amazon and I see that the author didn't start her endeavor for a few years after the death of her sister, which makes more sense.

    Thanks for the review, JoAnn. This is one book that won't make my TBR list.

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    1. Les - My thoughts, exactly... she must be a very fast reader! And then to write a blog review of a book every day, too? It would be an impossibility for me to do that for one week, probably even one day.

      She started the project after several years of attempting cope by doing it all - living enough for both herself and her sister. Obviously that wasn't working for her.

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  8. I share the same feeling as Les above. My father was ill last December and was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed away in January. I had not been able to find the mood or momentum to read or blog for almost two months. Only starting to return to the blogosphere recently, and picking up a book to read. I have read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair when it first came out. I can only say people respond to life's trauma very differently. I admire her stamina though.

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    1. Arti - I'm so sorry to hear about your father, but glad to see some posts from you recently. I also admire her stamina, but could never have kept up that pace... I read far too slowly!

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  9. I actually picked this up right around the time I found out a good friend of mine had passed away. It really comforted me more than I expected as I found I shared in those grief feelings at the time.

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    1. Andi - Her thoughts on working through grief by remembering struck a chord with me... glad books could be her vehicle.

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  10. Probably not for me, but I would love the comfort of being about to read a book a day!

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    1. Stacy - At first I thought reading a book a day would be like heaven, but I'd never be able to keep up that pace for even a week. Such discipline!

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  11. I was surprised, too, by the lack of discussion about the books. I was impressed by how much she was able to pull from books to help her but I could never get over thinking it was kind of selfish to take that kind of time away from other things.

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    1. Lisa - I'm glad she was able to find comfort in reading a book a day, but that is something I could NEVER do.

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  12. That was pretty much my exact reaction. I thought it was good, but I wish we talked more about the book she was reading.

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    1. Melissa - There wasn't even enough book talk for me to put together a list of titles to investigate. I enjoyed doing that with The End of Your Life Book Club.

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