From books to blog and back again, Nina Sankovitch chronicles her “year of magical reading” in TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR. In describing it that way, Sankovitch intentionally references Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING; this is a time of healing from loss, as she turns to books--reading one each day, every day for one year, and writing about it on her blog Read All Day--to help her make sense of life following the death of her beloved sister from an aggressive form of cancer.
If you didn’t know what was motivating Nina to undertake this project, it would be easy to envy this stay-at-home mother of four sons for having the luxury of spending the bulk of her days reading and blogging for an entire year. And once you DO know her motivation for it...well, it’s still hard not to be just a LITTLE envious, but that’s greatly tempered by compassion. This isn’t a vacation--Nina is not taking a year off from her family or domestic responsibilities to bury herself in books. It’s not a vague, idealistic quest for “self-improvement” either--this is FOCUSED, or as she describes it, “intense.” This is reading as therapy--and it seems to have been pretty effective therapy, at that.
TOLSTOY... is an engaging and inspiring read. While it’s a chronicle of an endeavor fueled by sad circumstances, it’s also a record of accomplishment. Nina actually manages to read 365 books in one year, at the rate of one per day, and write about them all, but that’s really all in service of a larger goal; books are her tools. At the end of that year, working with the tools she’s chosen, she’s gained insight and understanding about how to keep living and loving and moving forward. She discusses selected, personally significant books in some detail, but this isn’t so much a “book about books” as it is a book about one particular thoughtful, articulate reader’s personal journey through one transformative year, which has a narrative arc of its own.
While not exactly a book about books, TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR IS a book about reading, and it’s clearly a book FOR READERS. The idea of using books to help process a significant life event--not strictly looking for information, but seeking emotional truth in stories both real and fictional--makes perfect sense to a reader. It’s something many of us probably have done, or would do under equally personally-challenging conditions, even if we couldn’t devote a full year exclusively to it. However, as readers, we can appreciate that Nina Sankovitch did, and chose to share her story; it’s evidence of the life-changing power of books...literally.