Never have I felt so much like a book was written for me. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is a memoir by Nina Sankovitch who, following the death of her sister, embarks on a year of reading to read herself back into living the life she wants to live. I love to read books about books, but never has a book grabbed my heart so quickly and so strongly.
The lives of books are breathing life into me, new life.
So, Nina decides to read a book a day for one year and review them all too (readallday.org). In this memoir, her year of reading ties in with accepting her past. Not just the death of her sister but also dealing with the parents’ experiences in WW2, her past loves and future hopes, as well as touching on topics like sex and kindness. These reminiscences all tie into the books she is reading, and each chapter covers a lesson she learnt during this year, and how reading helped her get there. It reads like a love letter to the power and importance of books and that is something I am all over.
In the hands of someone else, it could all become a bit twee, but Nina is so honest – about how and why she undertook this year- that the sentiments ring with honesty too which helps keep the book away from being too self-helpy. She also seamlessly links the memoirs and book reading together which really works. It also shows how carefully the books were chosen – or perhaps that was pure coincidence!
Nina cleverly also gives us glimpses into her family life – doling out chores to her boys with the bribe of higher allowances and describing the days of living in a two- bed apartment with 5 young people in tow. This made me feel endeared towards her, rather than jealous that she was able to undertake this wonderful project. The memory of her sister and the knowledge that Nina was healing herself were also strong throughout the book and kept it very grounded. It was great to see all the different books she read entwined into her memoir and I definitely added some titles to my TBR too!
This book appeals to me as a book-lover in general, but also resonated with me because I have always used reading as a coping mechanism for difficult times in my own life. I used to worry that this was bad because I was avoiding real life, but recently I have viewed it differently – it’s not avoiding life but experiencing more of it. Nina’s story made me feel even more certain of the power of books, and she makes the argument so eloquently I wouldn’t want to try and compete.
Books are experience, they words of authors proving the solace of live, the fulfillment of family, the torment of war, and the wisdom of memory.