HOW DID YOU COME TO WRITE TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR?
In May 2005, my oldest sister died of cancer. Before she died, I was sure life would always work out for the best, for me and for my family, but after she died I found myself flogged by sorrow over her loss and overcome by fear for the rest of us. For the first time in my life, I was scared of what was coming next. I took on life like a battle: I was going to live double if my sister couldn’t live at all, I was going to make up for everything she lost, I was going to experience and do everything she could not. I sped along with no goal in sight, other than to get away from my sorrow and my fear. And then just before I turned 46, the age my sister was when she died, I decided to stop. I dropped down into a chair and began to read.
HOW DID THIS YEAR LONG PROJECT HELP YOU OVERCOME YOUR SISTER’S DEATH?
Reading a book a day and writing about each book on my website helped me to stop running away from my fears, forced me to slow down the pace of my life, and enabled me to understand just how much wonder and beauty there is in the world. While some people might think reading a book a day and writing about it is a form of mania, for me sinking down into a chair and allowing myself to just stay there for hours and read was pure luxury and pleasure. The writing daunted me at first, but it became my therapy, my way to go deeper into the book I had just read. In the end, the project brought me back to my family as a hopeful and happy person, and ready to move forward again.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE READERS TO TAKE AWAY FROM TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR?
That reading is a joy, and that in the joy so many rewards can be found. At my age, I find that suddenly everyone around me is experiencing loss and floundering around, looking for comfort and answers and support. So first, I want my book to offer some answers, plenty of comfort, and lots of support to anyone who has ever lost a friend or family member, through illness or accident or old age. Secondly, my book speaks to the doomsayers who’ve proclaimed the end of the book. During my year of reading, I heard from readers around the world not only about their response to my reviews and blog, but also about their own tremendous book-reading experiences. I’d like readers of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair to see that my year and the people who wrote to me during that year, and all the books I read and loved during my year, are proof that books are alive and important, vitally necessary and wholly loved by readers around the world. And lastly, of course, I want to inspire people to read books and in reading find comfort, along with wisdom, pleasure, and escape. There is no need to read from The Western Canon. Find what you like to read, sit down and indulge yourself, and the rewards will come.