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[Book Review] Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch


Title: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Author: Nina Sankovitch
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: June 19th, 2012
Format: Ebook
ISBN: 0061999857
Category: Non Fiction/Literature Memoir

Book blurb

“Nina Sankovitch has crafted a dazzling memoir that reminds us of the most primal function of literature-to heal, to nurture and to connect us to our truest selves.” —Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us

Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, a mother of four spends one year savoring a great book every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. In the tradition of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and Joan Dideon’s A Year of Magical Thinking, Nina Sankovitch’s soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss, hope, and redemption. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.


This is a heartwarming read. Look at the cover! I can imagine the cozy purple chair that the author has in her reading room. This book is as cozy as that purple chair.

The premise of the book is simple: how to deal with loss and grief, and find solace in books.

I can connect with Nina instantly. She was saddened by the death of her sister, Anne-Marie. Suddenly, I remember the grief I had when my grandmother passed away. First, I was shocked. After that, I was in a deep grief.

Nina Sankovitch found solace in books. She has four sons, one step daughter, and a husband. In order to escape from the grief, she set a goal to read a book a day in one year. During house chores, she found time to read and write a review everyday. Overwhelming.

She learnt how to deal with loss, grief, pain and things in between. I like how she intertwine the book with her personal experience as a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a wife. She also mentioned how her father coped with fear and grief durung WW2. His siblings were murdered by the German troops, and he had the same feeling when her daughter died of cancer.

I learned a lot from this book. It’s not only about the joy of reading a lot of books, but the lesson learned from the books, finding answers to our questions, and drowning in a sea of beautiful words. I envy the author who was able to read 1 book everyday.

In the end, after I finished reading the last chapter, I thank God for blessing me with my beautiful family. I love this book.

Complete list of books read from Oct 28, 2008 – Oct 28, 2009

The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli
The Abbot’s Ghost, by Louisa May Alcott
About Schmidt, by Louis Begley
Act of the Damned, by António Lobo Antunes
Address Unknown, by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
The African Queen, by C. S. Forester
The Age of Dreaming, by Nina Revoyr
Algren at Sea, by Nelson Algren
Alice Fantastic, by Maggie Estep
All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman
All Souls, by Christine Schutt
All That I Have, by Castle Freeman Jr.
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
Amphibian, by Carla Gunn
The Ancient Shore, by Shirley Hazzard and Francis Steegmuller
Anna In-Between, by Elizabeth Nunez
Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid
Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
The Assault, by Harry Mulisch
Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon, by Nancy Atherton
Bangkok Haunts, by John Burdett
Beauty Salon, by Mario Bellatin
The Believers, by Zoë Heller
Bellwether, by Connie Willis
The Best Place to Be, by Lesley Dormen
Better, by John O’Brien
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates
Blank, by Noah Tall
The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo
Bombay Time, by Thrity Umrigar
The Book of Chameleons, by José Eduardo Agualusa
The Book of Murder, by Guillermo Martínez
Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane
Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder
The Bridges at Toko-Ri, by James A. Michener
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, by Ben Fountain
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
By Chance, by Martin Corrick
Bye, Bye Soccer, by Edilberto Coutinho
The Calling, by Mary Gray Hughes
Call Me Ahab, by Anne Finger
Camera, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
C aptains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling
Castle Nowhere, by Constance Fenimore Woolson
The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole
A Celibate Season, by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
Charles Dickens, by Melisa Klimaszewski and Melissa Gregory
Cheese, by Willem Elsschot
Christmas in Plains, by Jimmy Carter
Climate of Fear, by Wole Soyinka
Conjugal Love, by Alberto Moravia
Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace
Cooking and Screaming, by Adrienne Kane
The Council of the Cursed, by Peter Tremayne
The Crofter and the Laird, by John McPhee
Crow Planet, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Crusader’s Cross, by James Lee Burke
The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
The Curriculum Vitae of Aurora Ortiz, by Almudena Solana
The Curse of Eve, by Liliana Blum
A Curtain of Green, by Eudora Welty
Dangerous Games, by Margaret MacMillan
Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser
The Darts of Cupid, by Edith Templeton
Dead Giveaway, by Simon Brett
Dead Horse, by Walter Satterthwait
A Dead Man in Barcelona, by Michael Pearce
Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge
Death Etc., by Harold Pinter
Death of a Witch, by M. C. Beaton
Death Rites, by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett
Death with Interruptions, by José Saramago
The Deer Leap, by Martha Grimes
DeKok and Murder by Installment, by A. C. Baantjer
Delhi Noir, edited by Hirsh Sawhney
Desperate Characters, by Paula Fox
The Detective Wore Silk Drawers, by Peter Lovesey
The Devil’s Tickets, by Gary M. Pomerantz
The Diamond Girls, by Jacqueline Wilson
The Diary of a Nobody, by G eorge and Weedon Grossmith
Disquiet, by Julia Leigh
Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje
Dogs, Dreams, and Men, by Joan Kaufman
The Door to Bitterness, by Martin Limón
Double-Click for Trouble, by Chris Woodworth
Dreamers, by Knut Hamsun
Drink to Yesterday, by Manning Coles
The Duppy, by Anthony C. Winkler
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love, by Lauren Tarshis
The Emperor’s Tomb, by Joseph Roth
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
The English Major, by Jim Harrison
Escape Under the Forever Sky, by Eve Yohalem
Esther’s Inheritance, by Sándor Márai
Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, by Blaize Clement
Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman
Explorers of the New Century, by Magnus Mills
Facing the Bridge, by Yoko Tawada
The Fairacre Festival, by Miss Read
The Faithful Lover, by Massimo Bontempelli
The Fall, by Albert Camus
Falling Angels, by Tracy Chevalier
Family Happiness, by Laurie Colwin
The Famous Flower of Serving Men, by Deborah Grabien
Female Trouble, by Antonya Nelson
The Ferguson Affair, by Ross Macdonald
Fiendish Deeds, by P. J. Bracegirdle
The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing
Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms
Fine Just the Way It Is, by Annie Proulx
The First Person, by Ali Smith
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Forged Coupon, by Leo Tolstoy
For Grace Received, by Valeria Parrella
Forty Stories, by Donald Barthelme
Frida’s Bed, by Slavenka Drakulić
The Garden Party, by Katherine Mansfield
Gerard Keegan’s Famine Diary, by James J. Mangan
The German Mujahid, by Boualem Sansal
Girl Boy Girl, by Savannah Knoop
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Godlike, by Richard Hell
Gold, by Dan Rhodes
Good Behaviour, by Molly Keane
The Good Life According to Hemingway, by A. E. Hotchner
The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford
The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti
The Granny, by Brendan O’Carroll
A Great Day for a Ballgame, by Fielding Dawson
Grief, by Andrew Holleran
The Grotesque, by Patrick McGrath
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Gutter and the Grave, by Ed McBain
Hairstyles of the Damned, by Joe Meno
Half in Love, by Maile Meloy
Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry
Happens Every Day, by Isabel Gillies
A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias
The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, by Charles Dickens
Her Deadly Mischief, by Beverle Graves Myers
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
The Hollow-Eyed Angel, by Janwillem van de Wetering
A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind
The House Beautiful, by Allison Burnett
The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa
Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, by Nick Hornby
The House on Eccles Road, by Judith Kitchen
How I Became a Nun, by César Aira
The Howling Miller, by Arto Paasilinna
How to Paint a Dead Man, by Sarah Hall
The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette, by R. T. Raichev
I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
I Love Dollars, by Zhu Wen
Indignation, by Philip Roth
In Her Absence, by Antonio Muñoz Molina
Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey
In the Meantime, by Robin Lippincott
In the Pond, by Ha Jin
In the Woods, by Tana French
In Time of Peace, by Thomas Boyd
Iron Balloons, edited by Colin Channer
I Was Dora Suarez, by Derek Raymond
Jacob’s Hands, by Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood
Jerusalem, by Selma Lagerlöf
John Crow’s Devil, by Marlon James
The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta
Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
The King and the Cowboy, by David Fromkin
Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
Krapp’s Last Cassette, by Anne Argula
Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips
The Last Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb
Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O’Nan
The Laughter of Dead Kings, by Elizabeth Peters
Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, by Jane Hamilton
The Law of Similars, by Chris Bohjalian
The Laws of Evening, by Mary Yukari Waters
A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines
Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris
Life on the Refrigerator Door, by Alice Kuipers
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
The Little Disturbances of Man, by Grace Paley
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe
The Lost Art of Gratitude, by Alexander McCall Smith
The Lost Prophecies, by C. J. Sansom, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, and Philip Gooden
Love and Death, by Forrest Church
The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh
The Love of the Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Love Song of Monkey, by Michael Graziano
Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos
Madame de Staël, by Francine du Plessix Gray
Make No Bones, by Aaron Elkins
Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster
The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill
The Man of My Life, by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton
Marley and Me, by John Grogan
The Master of Petersburg, by J. M. Coetzee
Masterpiece, by Elise Broach
Meat Eaters and Plant Eaters, by Jessica Treat
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
The Mercy Papers, by Robin Romm
Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West
Miss Misery, by Andy Greenwald
Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones
The Moon Opera, by Bi Feiyu
Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively
Murder in the Calais Coach, by Agatha Christie
Murder Is My Racquet, edited by Otto Penzler
The Musical Illusionist, by Alex Rose
My House in Umbria, by William Trevor
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Newton, by Peter Ackroyd
The Nick Adams Stories, by Ernest Hemingway
Nobody Move, by Denis Johnson
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes
Oh Joe, by Michael Z. Lewin
The Old Man and Me, by Elaine Dundy
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
One Dog Happy, by Molly McNett
One Foot in Eden, by Ron Rash
Onitsha, by J. M. G. Le Clézio
On Kindness, by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor
On the Line, by Serena Williams with Daniel Paisner
On the Pleasure of Hating, by William Hazlitt
The Open Door, by Elizabeth Maguire
The Orchid Shroud, by Michelle Wan
Out of Captivity, by Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes with Gary Brozek
The Palestinian Lover, by Sélim Nassib
Pastoralia, by George Saunders
The Patience of the Spider, by Andrea Camilleri
Payback, by Margaret Atwood
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
The Peregrine, by J. A. Baker
The Perfectionists, by Gail Godwin
Petey & Pussy, by John Kerschbaum
The Picts and the Martyrs, by Arthur Ransome
Pilate’s Wife, by H.D.
The Pisstown Chaos, by David Ohle
The Plated City, by Bliss Perry
Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Poisonville, by Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta
Polaris, by Fay Weldon
The Poorhouse Fair, by John Updike
Pressure Is a Privilege, by Billie Jean King
The Private Patient, by P. D. James
The Provincial Lady in London, by E. M. Delafield
The Public Prosecutor, by Jef Geeraerts
Pulpy and Midge, by Jessica Westhead
The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford
Rage, by Sergio Bizzio
Rancho Weirdo, by Laura Chester
Respected Sir, by Naguib Mahfouz
Revelation, by C. J. Sansom
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
Rhino Ranch, by Larry McMurtry
Rimbaud, by Edmund White
River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth
A Rogue’s Life, by Wilkie Collins
Rome Noir, edited by Chiara Stangalino and Maxim Jakubowski
Ronald Reagan, by Andrew Helfer, illustrated by Steve Buccellato and Joe Staton
Roseanna, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Ruins, by Achy Obejas
The Rules of Engagement, by Anita Brookner
Russian Journal, by Andrea Lee
The Salt-Box House, by Jane de Forest Shelton
Salvation and Other Disas ters, by Josip Novakovich
The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama
Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan
Scat, by Carl Hiaasen
Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow
Self’s Murder, by Bernhard Schlink
The Servants’ Quarters, by Lynn Freed
The Session, by Aaron Petrovich
The Seven Deadly Sins, edited by Angus Wilson
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman
The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuściński
A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert
Silks, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel
The Simulacra, by Philip K. Dick
The Sin Eater, by Alice Thomas Ellis
Six Early Stories, by Thomas Mann
Six Kinds of Sky, by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Sixth Target, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
The Skating Rink, by Roberto Bolaño
The Slippery Year, by Melanie Gideon
Smile as They Bow, by Nu Nu Yi
A Smile of Fortune, by Joseph Conrad
Snakehead, by Anthony Horowitz
Something Nasty in the Woodshed, by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill
Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, by Selçuk Altun
Son of Holmes, by John Lescroart
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Spoke, by Friedrich Glauser
Spooner, by Pete Dexter
A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
Stitches, by David Small
Stolen Children, by Peg Kehret
The Sun Field, by Heywood Broun
A Sun for the Dying, by Jean-Claude Izzo
The Swap, by Antony Moore
Tamburlaine Must Die, by Louise Welsh
The Tempest Tales, by Walter Mosley
Ten Poems to Set You Free, by Roger Housden
A Terrible Splendor, by Marshall Jon Fisher
The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote
They Who Do Not Grieve, by Sia Figiel
The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
The Third Angel, by Alice Hoffman
The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan
The Three of Us, by Julia Blackburn
A Toast to Tomorrow, by Manning Coles
The Tomb in Seville, by Norman Lewis
To Siberia, by Per Petterson
The Touchstone, by Edith Wharton
Towards the End of the Morning, by Michael Frayn
Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler
Twice-Told Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Two Marriages, by Phillip Lopate
Under the Frangipani, by Mia Couto
The Unknown Masterpiece, by Honoré de Balzac
Vanessa and Virginia, by Susan Sellers
The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder, by John Bellairs, completed by Brad Strickland
The Venice Train, by Georges Simenon
The Vicar of Sorrows, by A. N. Wilson
Victorian Tales of Terror, edited by Hugh Lamb
Waiting in Vain, by Colin Channer
Wake, by Lisa McMann
Walk the Blue Fields, by Claire Keegan
War Dances, by Sherman Alexie
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Weekend, by Peter Cameron
What I’d Say to the Martians, by Jack Handey
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris
Where Angels Fear to Tread, by E. M. Forster
Where the Money Went, by Kevin Canty
Where Three Roads Meet, by John Barth
Where You Once Belonged, by Kent Haruf
T he White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
The Whore’s Child, by Richard Russo
Willful Behavior, by Donna Leon
Will War Ever End? by Paul K. Chappell
Will Work for Drugs, by Lydia Lunch
Winning Ugly, by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison
Wizard’s Hall, by Jane Yolen
The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
The Yellow Leaves, by Frederick Buechner
The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Quotes from the book

When I was in high school, I began keeping a journal of favorite quotations from books. The purpose of the journal was to act as a vault. I wanted to save the words whispered in my ears by beloved authors, and store them up for the day when I would need to hear them again.

“Do not look for happiness in life. Life itself is happiness.”

But books were showing me that everyone suffers, at different times in their lives. And that yes, in fact, there were many people who knew exactly what I was going through. Now, through reading, I found that suffering and finding joy are universal experiences, and that those experiences are the connection between me and the rest of the world.

“Democracy depends on the voices of its citizens, whether supportive or critical of the government! Leave America? No, I choose to try and make it a better country. A country that ends wars, not perpetuates them.”

How to live? With empathy.

I wasn’t always a loyal girlfriend, but when I cheated, it wasn’t because desire overcame my good sense. It was because love had faded and I was too much of a chicken to break off the relationship.

What holds a couple together is more than just ardor—it is the confabulation of two, a conversation spanning years, sometimes carried out through words and sometimes through caresses.

“You really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.”

Books were my time machine, my vehicles of recovery and reignited bliss from childhood and beyond.

In a world where, sometimes, very little makes sense, a mystery can take the twists and turns of life and run them through a plot that eventually does make sense.

“Kindness . . . creates the kind of intimacy, the kind of involvement with other people that we both fear and crave . . . kindness, fundamentally, makes life worth living.”

In my family’s mythology, kindness is the greatest power.

“All love is sacred” was my grandmother’s philosophy.