I spent a year reading a book a day and writing about it on this website, Readallday.org. Why a year of such intense reading and writing? I lost my oldest sister to cancer and I needed the therapy of books to find my way in the world.
Every day I read a new book, after posting about the book I’d read the day before here on my blog.
For years afterwards I continued to review books – you can find those reviews at 1,001 books – but now I just read them and write them.
My year of reading was profiled in The New York Times, first in October 2009 and then again in August 2011. My book Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, about the joys and therapeutic benefits of reading, was published in 2011 by HarperCollins. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was hailed as “an outstanding debut” by Kirkus Reviews and designated a “book to read now” by Oprah.
IN 1999, I found a treasure of letters in the backyard of a decrepit brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The letters had been written one hundred years ago from a son to his mother, and included the daily notes he sent to her during his four years at Princeton.
My discovery of the letters of James Seligman, along with my lifelong love of letters and the fact that my oldest son was leaving for college – would he ever write to me? – sent me off on a quest to define the qualities of letters that make them so special.
The story of that quest, and of what I discovered, can be found in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letterwriting, a book exploring the the unique qualities of letter writing and celebrating all its joys, published by Simon & Schuster in 2014. Once again Oprah hailed the book, calling it a book “every joy-seeking woman needs to read” and it received celebratory reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, and Booklist.
“Part memoir, part meditation, part artful history lesson…and part reminder to put a pen to paper when it comes to people we care about…” Leigh Newman, Oprah.com
“A son’s departure for college prompted Sankovitch (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, 2011, etc.) to wonder, ‘Why does a letter mean so much?’… Her desire for an actual handwritten letter got the author thinking about the different ways in which correspondence connects us to others, and her agreeable narrative roams through many varieties…. a sweet-natured, well-written affirmation of the time-honored role of letters as a uniquely personal way to communicate.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Perfect for devotes of pen and paper, Sankovitch’s (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) new book examines her personal correspondence with family and friends and the letters of strangers, famous and obscure, and shows the reading of letters to be a pleasurable form of discovery and connection… an enjoyable, if sentimental read and will likely inspire both old-fashioned letter reading and letter writing.”
– Publishers Weekly
Sankovitch’s “review of the art of letter writing is a unique blend of personal and public history…[her] enthusiasm is clear as she makes the case for their importance. It’s hard to imagine future generations becoming as excited over discovering emails and texts as she was over the revelation of century-old letters.” – Library Journal
“Sankovitch combs history to find exceptional correspondents…More survey than anthology, this book should encourage readers to search out and read the letters’ full texts.” – Booklist
“Nonfiction treats: The author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair eloquently tracks the history of letter-writing, and along the way reminds us of how a real letter establishes a personal bond between the writer and the recipient.” – The Sacramento Bee
“How sad to think our children may never get a letter from a friend or a lover, the art of both—the sentiment and penmanship—fading away like an old Polaroid. Nina Sankovitch’s lovely, elegant book about the intimacy of letters is rich with treasures from politicians, soldiers, mothers, prisoners, husbands, and wooers. It is a joy to read, savor, and remember.” – Lesley Stahl
“I loved this this poignant and inspirational book. Nina Sankovitch brings many lost worlds and characters—from Abelard and Eloise to Edith Wharton—vividly to life through the power of letters. At the same time, she reminds us of all that we have lost since texting has replaced letter writing as a vital connection among humans. A pure delight.” – Kati Marton, author of Paris: A Love Story
“I challenge you to stop reading Signed, Sealed, Delivered after the Queen of Bohemia’s flame to the Earl of Carlisle which begins ‘Thou ugly, filthy, camel’s face…’ I know I couldn’t.” – Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
“Dear reader: I hasten to alert you to an irresistible book exploring personal correspondence across many periods of history and every range of human emotion. If letter-writing is a lost, or at best a vanishing, art, Nina Sankovitch has injected it with new hope and life. Take that, email and twitter. Frankly, I could not put this book down, else I would have written sooner.” – Harold Holzer, author of Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President
“This is one of the best books on letters and the love of letters that I have read in a while. It’s not just a dry listing or a facsimile. It really makes letters live. It’s a great book. ..Honestly, you should really just go buy one. It’s that good. ” - Letter Writers Alliance
Kirkus Reviews named Tolstoy and the Purple Chair an outstanding debut of 2011 and gave it a starred review: “This celebration of the richness of reading will reward anyone who loves to read…Intelligent, insightful and eloquent, Sankovitch takes the reader on the literary journey…even the well-read reader will be inspired to explore some of the books from this magical year.”
Independent Book Sellers named Tolstoy and the Purple Chair to their list of Great Reads for June 2011 and to their Summer 2012 Paperback Next List. Caitlin Doggart, from the independent book store Where the Sidewalk Ends on Cape Cod, wrote for the group, exclaiming that my book “is the best description of the power of books that I have ever encountered!”
O Magazine , June 2011, lists Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as a book to read now: “Anyone who has ever sought refuge in literature will identify.”
The Los Angeles Times writes that “The beauty…lies in seeing how books intertwine with daily life, how very much they affect our moods, interactions, and how we recover and process our memories.”
The Christian Science Monitor lists Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as one of “the smartest nonfiction titles for summer reading” and “a tribute to the power of books to enrich our daily lives.”
Publisher’s Weekly calls Tolstoy and the Purple Chair “an entertaining bibliophile’s dream … As well as being an homage to her sister and their family of readers, Sankovitch’s memoir speaks to the power that books can have over our daily lives. Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and [her memoir] will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another.”
BookPage calls Tolstoy and the Purple Chair an “affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books…Sankovitch gracefully acknowledges that her year of reading was an escape into the healing sanctuary of books, where she learned how to move beyond recuperation to living.”
Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post wrote “how lucky we are to experience her journey in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Who knows how many people will find comfort in this beautiful little book in the months and years to come?” and in his review wrote, “[Tolstoy and the Purple Chair] digs deep into that near-mystical connection between a reader and an author—that startling feeling that you are channeling someone you have never met…A gripping and inspiring book.”
“An original and touching account of one woman’s lifelong affinity for books and her attempt to channel that affinity to deal with her grief after her sister dies. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is an understated but moving story about the effects of a ‘year of magical reading.’”
“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
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair will transport you to a time before texts and tweets. Through the stories of her own family, Nina Sankovitch shows how books have the power to refresh, renew, and even heal us. I loved this memoir.”
-Julie Klam, author of You Had Me at Woof
“A beautifully fluid, reflective, and astute memoir that gracefully combines affecting family history with expert testimony about how books open our minds to ‘the complexity and entirety of the human experience.’ Sankovitch’s reading list in all its dazzling variety is top-notch.”
“The beauty of her project lies in seeing how books intertwine with daily life, how very much they affect our moods, interactions, and, especially important for Sankovitch, how we recover and process our memories….She makes reading seem accessible, relaxing, inspiring, fun.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is original, uplifting and very moving: a unique celebration of life, love and literature.”
-S. J. Bolton, author of Now You See Me
“A beautifully paced look at how mindfulness can affect the psyche.”
-Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Sankovitch’s account works well because she uses her reading list to jump off into topics that are tangential, yet intriguing and often important.”
“[Tolstoy and the Purple Chair] offers timeless wisdom, is uplifting and has a powerful message.”
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair masterfully weaves beloved and sometimes surprising books into central events in the writer’s life. There is much to learn from this moving book. Sankovitch writes with intelligence and honesty, leading us to respond in a similar manner.”
-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of One Amazing Thing
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is a must-read for anyone who adores books. It is also a primer on the healing power of taking time off to grieve by immersing oneself in a revered activity.”
-The Book Bully
“Her deeply moving memoir artfully intertwines her immigrant family’s history with the universal themes of hope, resilience, and memory. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair celebrates not only the healing power of literature but its ability to connect us to the best of ourselves — and each other.”
“Sankovitch’s memoir stands as a tribute to the power of books to enrich our daily lives.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is an absolutely lovely account of the healing power of literature.”
-Devourer of Books
“This graceful memoir describes a true love affair with books.”
“[A] brilliant and heartwarming book.”
-Ventura County Star
“Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is “an absolute joy…it is pure magic. Anyone who loves books and reading cannot fail to love Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.” – Bluestalking, Member National Book Critics Circle