Reviews for Tolstoy and the Purple Chair : My Year of Magical Reading


Booklist Reviews 2011 June #1
Reading was paramount in Sankovitch's Evanston, Illinois, home, so she turned to books for solace in the wake of her oldest sister's cruel death at age 46. While Sankovitch knew she could rely on books "for wisdom, for succor, and for escape," however, she realized that as the mother of four sons, and as an attorney on hiatus, she needed structure to cope with her grief. Hence her "book-a-day project." Nestled in her beloved old purple chair, Sankovitch read a book each day, primarily novels, then reviewed each title on her book-exchange website, Read All Day. She now recounts her "year of magical reading" in a beautifully fluid, reflective, and astute memoir that gracefully combines affecting family history--her parents immigrated to America after surviving WWII in Belgium and Poland--with expert testimony about how books open our minds to "the complexity and entirety of the human experience." Sankovitch's reading list in all its dazzling variety is top-notch, and every ardent reader will find her perceptive thoughts about stories, remembrance, resilience, and "book bliss" incisive and affirming. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2011 June
Reading all day

When her sister Anne-Marie died after a brief but debilitating illness, Nina Sankovitch took refuge in her old purple chair, surrounded by stacks of books that both she and her sister loved. Much as Joan Didion launched into her “year of magical thinking” following the death of her husband, Sankovitch launched into a year of magical reading as her own suspension in time between the overwhelming sorrow of her sister’s death and the future that awaited her.

Knowing how easy it would be to lose herself and her grief in the many busy little things that make up everyday life, Sankovitch allowed herself a year not to run, worry, control or make money. As she turned 46 (the age at which her sister died), she and her husband raised a toast to the commencement of her year of reading books—one book every day. “All the books would have been the ones I would have shared with Anne-Marie if I could have,” she writes.

Sankovitch inaugurated a website, ReadAllDay.org, where she reflected daily on the book she had just read. Seeking to bask in the memories of her sister’s life, to fill the void left by her death and to share her highs and lows with other readers, she feasted upon a banquet of books that ranged from Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants to Ross MacDonald’s The Ferguson Affair and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, devouring themes from love and death, to war and peace, to loss and hope.

In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, her affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books and reading, Sankovitch gracefully acknowledges that her year of reading was an escape into the healing sanctuary of books, where she learned how to move beyond recuperation to living.

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2011 April #1

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.

 

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 June #2

"Pleasure on a schedule" is how Sankovitch describes the plan detailed in her memoir. A married, stay-at-home mom with four sons, she decided to create calm in her life by sitting down, sitting still, and reading an entire book each day and completing a journal with her reaction to each book. Sankovitch knew she could read 70 pages an hour; she selected books no more than one inch thick. Other self-imposed rules dictated that she not read more than one book by any author. Nor could she read any book she had previously read. The book's title refers to Sankovitch's favorite author and the old chair she sat in to read each day. Beginning the project on her 46th birthday, Sankovitch entwines her comments about her reading selections with family stories including her parents surviving World War II in Europe, her upbringing in a tight-knit family of five who loved books and reading, and finally, her sister's death from bile-duct cancer. Sankovitch continues to write about her reading on her web site ReadAllDay.org as a way to encourage adults to read each day. VERDICT Sankovitch's frequent comments about unwashed laundry and the repetitive stories of baking Christmas cookies with her step-daughter may try the reader, but these are minor when considering her accomplishment and the appeal of her memoir.--Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

[Page 90]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 February #4

When Sankovitch lost her older sister to cancer, she was determined to "live her life double" in order to make up for her family's painful loss. But after three years spent at a frenetic pace, Sankovitch decided to slow down and rediscover the pleasure of books in order to reconnect with the memory of her sister. Despite the day-to-day responsibilities of raising four sons--and the holidays, vacations, and sudden illnesses that accompany a large family--Sankovitch vowed to read one book a day for an entire year and blog about it. In this entertaining bibliophile's dream, Sankovitch (who launched ReadAllDay.org and was profiled in the New York Times) found that her "year of magical reading" was "not a way to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it." As well as being an homage to her sister and their family of readers, Sankovitch's memoir speaks to the power that books can have over our daily lives. Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another. (June)

[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

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