Good morning! As you can see from the title of today’s post, I did in fact manage to get some reading done over the weekend, when I wasn’t bemoaning my lost hour (although I’m still not happy about that!) Today we’re talking about Book #3 in my Reading Challenge, which was “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading” by Nina Sankovitch.
I have mixed feelings about this one, guys. I wanted to love it, I really did, but instead I only … liked it. Most of the time. More on that in a moment. But first, here’s your spoiler-free synopsis!
After her beloved older sister dies of cancer, Nina Sankovitch tries to maintain her usual role of “the entertainer” and keep her entire family too busy laughing to mourn their loss. She also tried to schedule grief away by keeping everyone’s calendars – and minds – full to the max. But after a couple of years of running at this frantic pace, Stankovitch is completely burnt out. On her 46th birthday, she decides to dedicate an entire year to reading one book a day … when she’s not dealing with a husband, 4 boys, and a cat, that is.
Ok. First of all, can we talk about how totally inadequate this book made me feel? Here I was, thinking that I was taking on a great challenge by committing to reading 13 books in one calendar year … and Nina Sankovitch is taking on 365?!
365 books in 365 days?!?
I was (sort of ) kidding about that inadequacy thing. Reading this book actually made me feel quite sane, because, let’s be honest – it might make a great hook when you’re pitching the idea to your literary agent, but reading 365 books in one year is totally nuts. Which is partly what drew me to this novel in the first place – I was curious to see how Sankovitch would come across as a “character” herself.
During the year, Sankovitch reviewed each book that she read on the website www.readallday.org, and the focus and insight that she needed to accomplish that is on display here – she offers concise, well-polished glimpses into each of the novels she reads. And I think that was part of my problem with this book. For someone utterly consumed by grief, she’s a little too well put together. Now, I know that’s what editors and proofreaders are for, but she didn’t always come across as genuine, to me. An unreliable narrator can really spice things up if you’re dealing with a first-person limited perspective in fiction (English major alert!) but it can be problematic when you’re talking about a memoir. I think I would have enjoyed her company a lot more if she had just let herself go once in a while.
As I mentioned in an earlier post about selecting the next book for my Reading
Challenge, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” is essentially a book about … books. It’s about other things too, of course; it’s about love and family and loss and it’s about the way that language can grab ahold of our souls, and the ways that we can use it to make sense of the world … but more often than not, you’re just reading about somebody who is … reading.
Which is, ultimately, what puts this book in the “like” column and not the “love” column for me. I loved when the author talked about how books are inextricably bound up with her childhood, and how different stories and chapters and even single words could evoke vivid, sensory memories of growing up with her sisters. And she had some really wonderful things to say about coming to better understand yourself by being introduced to other characters. As someone who treats fictional characters like close, personal friends (Elizabeth Bennet and I would so be BFFs) that really resonated with me. But when she spent entire pages talking about scheduling her reading around carpool and school lunches and still finding time to make love to her husband, well …
… I just wanted to go hang out with Elizabeth Bennet.
So there you have it! 3 books down, and 10 more to go, in the next 9 1/2 months.
Have you guys read any memoirs? Were they biographies or more in the “Eat Pray Love” style of “personal journey stories”? Did you enjoy them? I think that I’d like to continue in this vein and read a work of non-fiction next – any suggestions, please share them in the Comments!
And while I’m on the hunt for my library card, we’ll have Wordful Wednesday here tomorrow. I hope you’ll stop by!