“I was ready – ready to sit down in my purple chair and read. For years, books had offered to me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more. After three years of carrying the truth of my sister’s death around with me, I knew I would never be relieved of my sorrow. I was not hoping for relief. I was hoping for answers. I was trusting in books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And of how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.”
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair took the book blogging world by storm last year. I remember being particularly taken with Allie’s review, which instantly put it on my wish list. A little over a year later, this memoir about reading a book a day, about finding meaning in literature and making meaning through reading, about learning to live with the loss of a sister, has been released in paperback. And I jumped at the chance to read it.
It was satisfactory, but I am afraid I have to admit that it wasn’t perfect either. I think the idea of the book spoke to me more than did its execution.
True, there is something fascinating about watching another person read, about seeing another life unfold through the images supplied by books, about reading the contemplations on why certain books speak to you – and why others do not. I am a book blogger for a reason and I read the blogs of others for that very same reason.
Also true, Sankovitch writing style is beautiful. At times perhaps a little too poetic for the tastes of some, but it mostly felt like she lifted me up and made me smile a lot.
And I enjoyed contemplating reading, and loss, along with Sankovitch. But I have to admit that it were often my own associations and thoughts that had me intrigued, and not so much Sankovitch’s own ideas. She offers some interesting perspectives, and some nice memories of her own family, but for me she offered a framework to contemplate how reading relates to my life more than she provided any new insights. I hope that makes sense? I think the book is meaningful in that way, and I appreciated how it made me think about my own reading life, and yet.. I can’t help but feel that that was perhaps not exactly it’s goal (as it’s a memoir about loss and reading), or that something was missing to make it work on a higher level.
More than anything, I felt that the combination of loss and reading could be beautiful. In my head, it offered such opportunity for beauty and meaning. But then, on the page, it didn’t always translate to that. There were quite a few repetitions in the book and they got on my nerves a little, the feeling that “I had read this before”, that this had been said repeatedly in different chapters in different ways. And often, Sankovitch reflections ended in what I can only call “life truths”, that felt a little too all-encompassingly-profound to me. I’m not saying reading cannot be about that, I love it when it is, but I also know that not every book is like that – nor should it, or does it have to, be. Reading is more than a self-help and “finding yourself” activity. In mentioning those words I feel I am selling Sankovitch short, because she does seem to want to offer something different than a finding-yourself-memoir. But on the other hand, these “life truths” tended to be a little too dominant not to read it in this manner, at times.
All in all, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was an interesting and enjoyable read, but it wasn’t perfect. Or maybe it just wasn’t for me. Who knows?
Side note: When going over the reading list of the 365 books read at the end of the book, I couldn’t help but smile at the relatively large number of Dutch books in translation I found there (for I had expected none). I know, I always say I have no national pride, but then these little things make me smile.
Other Opinions: So Many Books, Leeswammes, Books Distilled, Estella’s Revenge, The Bluestocking Society, The Blue Bookcase, A Room of One’s Own, 1330v, Reader for Life, A Literary Odyssey, Devourer of Books, Chocolate and Croissants, Chicken Spaghetti, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, The 3 R’s Blog, A Patchwork of Books, Read Around the World, Capricious Reader, Therapy Through Tolstoy.
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