Nina Sankovitch, writer, lawyer, activist, beloved and loving family member has given her answer in the book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. Ms. Sankovitch is one of three sisters born to immigrant parents who survived World War II in Europe. Reading together and separately was a family activity.
The early, unexpected death of one of her sisters sends Ms. Sankovitch into grief and pain that she is still experiencing three years after the event. All the constant movement needed to keep her family of husband and three boys going has done nothing to ease the loss. She decides to take another approach. To stop and be still. Maybe silence and isolation will heal the pain of loss. She decides to read one book each day, and to write a report on it, just to keep her honest.
What books does she choose? By what method are they chosen? Think a little about which ones you might pick if you had to make choices. (I’d probably pick all the classics I missed, particularly the ones on college reading lists I never really got to. And I’d have a go at all the ones recommended to me by readers I respect. I’d pick ones I never really got the point of. If I didn’t like them would I have to finish? What would I read just for fun? Would I still love the ones I so loved before? Is rereading even fair?)
Ms. Sankovitch doesn’t give her exact criteria for picking, but does discuss some of her choices. She allows a mystery, usually a Dick Francis, that can be read quickly each Sunday, because Sundays are her family’s day. The author’s take on why we love mysteries: They give order to the universe. But they also suggest that there are questions for which there is no answer.
When one of her three sons suggests Watership Down, because it’s one of his favorite books, she first resists because of its length. But then she dreams of meeting her dead sister in the Wren Library in Cambridge, England, and being reminded that “the world is rolling, asleep and awake” and that she had a promise to keep. The next morning she read all 476 pages and loved it as much as her son had.
In the book, On Kindness, Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor argue that human kindness is human nature. “Kindness creates the kind of intimacy, the kind of involvement that we crave. Kindness fundamentally, makes life worth living.” These were good words with which to comfort a grieving family.
Our writer runs into many healing moments and wise words during her year of reading. Writer Nick Hornby in his Housekeeping vs. the Dirt says “One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they’re hard work, they’re not doing us any good.” Ms. Sankovitch says that all the books she read, hard and easy, did her lots of good, lots of good, and brought her pleasure, lots of pleasure. She was not sick a single day of the year. Far from needing a rest, she loved reading on the last day as much as the first.
There is a complete bibliography of the books read at the end of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Readers will love seeing how many they have read, how many they have not even heard of, and choosing which ones they might want to read.