Tolstoy and the Purple Chair
I first saw Nina Sankovitch’s “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” in a random bookstore in downtown Boise. I wasn’t looking for anything specific, just browsing.
I’ve loved memoirs ever since my senior year of high school when we focused on some great memoirs for an entire semester. I also took a course in college that focused on memoirs. I find them interesting in many ways. For one, you get to see a very personal side of someone’s life. You get to see their life through the lens of a specific theme which they’ve chosen as their backdrop. And then, after you’ve read it, you can analyze their version of events and speculate how other people in their lives may have told the story. The subjectiveness of truth has been the downfall of many memoirs’ reputations. It brings up the question: Is it how events happened that matter, or how we remember them, the message we take away from those events?
Anyway, I was going through the memoir section of this bookstore, and “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” jumped out at me. I read the back, and found it interesting, but I didn’t really need more books (as if I ever do…) so I put it back.
Months later, I made a trip to Portland and went to Powell’s. Guess what jumped out at me again? When I’m at Powell’s, I already know I’m going to buy a bunch of books I don’t need, so I went ahead and got it.
It took me several months to finally read this book, and though I loved it, I read about half of it and then went a while before I finished it. This probably has more to do with my attention span and things going on in life rather than being a reflection of the book.
Nina Sankovitch decided to read a book a day for year in order to cope with the death of her sister. Her sister died a few years before she started the project, and she decided that it was time to stop running away. Instead, she used books to both escape and face her worries, fears, and her future. Books had always been a huge part of her life and her relationship with her sister. “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” summarizes her journey, recaps some of her memories of her sister, and shares the lessons she learned by focusing her life in literature.
When first reading the concept of this book, I kind of wanted to discount the impressiveness of reading a book a day. “Well, she’s a stay-at-home-mom. Not everyone has time to do that.” But I almost immediately caught myself. Being a mom, especially of 4 boys, is a full-time job. Also, I think a lot of us would have time to do a project like this; we just don’t use our time wisely. We watch tv. Stare at social media sites we don’t care about. Complain instead of fixing things. If we channeled our efforts into spending our time doing things we’re passionate about, a lot of us could learn a lot about ourselves and our capabilities.
I loved Nina Sankovitch’s summaries of the books she read. She shared how the books made her feel without ruining the plots. I feel like I got an emotional connection to the characters she talked about, though I was just reading brief synopses of their stories.
Sankovitch faced her uncertainty by creating a goal for herself, and using that goal to grow. She completely engrossed herself into one project, and improved her entire life because of it. She didn’t ignore her family. She didn’t ignore her health. She learned to fit time to read an entire book a day into her life. She gave up the things that didn’t matter and focused only on what did.
What could such focus and determination do for the rest of us?