Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Reading (Week 13)

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” -Stephen King, On Writing

Read a book a week. Write every day. Do this for a year. See where you end up. That is the plan I came up with last November. So far so good.

This week I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch, a book about the author’s experience of reading one book a day for a year.

Nina has four sons and one stepdaughter. Naturally my first question upon hearing about this book was, how in the world does someone with five children read a book a day for a whole year?? Now I know. 🙂

Nina’s year of reading began three years after her sister’s death. Nina, who had always loved books and who was close with her sister, decided to read a book a day for one year as a method of healing from the grief and trauma of the loss of her sister.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned that it is ok, more than ok, for a family to prioritize a mom’s mental health. I learned about Nina’s parents and their experiences in Poland and Belgium during World War Two and their immigration to America not long after the war was over.

I learned that Nina had six hours between school bus drop offs to read her book and write the essay that she wrote about each one of them. I learned that by calling her reading and writing work, Nina was able to give herself permission to do it. I learned that for one year Nina delegated extra chores to her children, depended on her husband to cook a few meals a week and learned to say no to any activities that were not of utmost importance to her role as wife, mother and woman in desperate need of healing.

Nina’s story reminded me of the inherent value of books and story. It reminded me that it is the love and the beauty in this world that empowers us to endure, to heal, to overcome.

Nina’s love of reading and love for her family reminded me so much of my own life. It is always comforting to see my reflection in another’s story.

I adored this book. I highly recommend it. And I would love to talk to you about it if and when you ever read it.

I kept many notes during the reading of this book, as I often do. I will leave you with my favorite quotes from this remarkable book.

I was allowing myself one year to not run, not plan, not provide. A year of nots- not worry, not control, not make money.

By giving it the name of work, I sanctified it.

Great good comes from reading great books.

Moments of beauty and light and happiness live forever.

If we are mindful enough to grasp the beauty of those moments, we can hang onto those moments forever. Such moments are best shared, either in the moment or in memory.

Life’s possibilities, future memories to find and grasp, can chisel away at imprisoning sorrow.

Some people go on dreaming all their lives and cannot change. Lucky people to dream all their lives. A certain profound optimism is required, a belief that dreams can come true.

Today, my friends, we each have one day less, every one of us, and joy is the only thing that slows the clock.

Acts of kindness demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent animals that have no better resource than each other.

In the face of hardship, compassion answers back with stores of relief. Each gentle act of caring relieves the weight of the battle.

Any break taken from the frenetic pace of busy days can restore the balance of a life turned topsy turvy. We all need a space to just let things be. A place to remember who we are and what is important to us. An interval of time that allows the happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness.

So many books waiting to be read. So much happiness to be found. So much wonder to be revealed.


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