Tomorrow, June 7th, my memoir entitled Tolstoy and the Purple Chair will be released. In anticipation, and as a gift to all my wonderful readers, many of whom have shared this long journey of reading and writing with me, I am posting an excerpt from the book today. You have shared your book recommendations with me, and your memories of favorite books, and your thoughts on everything from laundry to loss. Thank you all so very, very much.
Excerpt from Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:
“My year of reading was my own hiatus, my own suspension in time between the overwhelming sorrow of my sister’s death and the future that now waits before me. During my yearlong respite filled with books, I recuperated. Even more, I learned how to move beyond recuperation to living.
When I ran from the hospital room where [my sister] Anne-Marie died, the room where I last saw her alive and kissed her and told her, with confidence, that I would see her again tomorrow, I was running away…
For three years I ran as fast as I could, trying to live and love and learn at double speed to make up for what Anne-Marie lost. Trying to anesthetize myself from what I’d lost. When I decided to read a book a day and write about it, I ‘d finally stopped running away. I sat down, sat still, and started to read. Every day I read and devoured and digested and thought about all the books, their authors, their characters, and their conclusions. I immersed myself in the world the authors had created and I witnessed new ways of handling the twists and turns of life, discovering tools of humor and empathy and connection. Through my reading, I reached the point of understanding so much…
I have learned, through books, to hold onto my memories of all the beautiful moments and people in my life, as I need those memories to help me through difficult times. I have learned to allow forgiveness, both of myself and of people around me, all trying with “their heavy burden” just to get by. I know now that love is a power great enough to survive death, and that kindness is the greatest connector between me and the rest of the world…
There is no remedy for the sorrow of losing someone we love, and nor should there be. Sorrow is not an illness or an affliction. It is the only response possible to the death of a loved one, and an affirmation of just how much we value life itself, for all its wonder and thrill and beauty and satisfaction.
Our only answer to sorrow is to live. To live looking backwards, remembering the ones we have lost, but also moving forwards, with anticipation and excitement. And to pass on those feelings of hope and possibility through acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
My whole life, I have read books. And when I needed to read the most, books gave me everything I asked for and more. Most of all, my year of reading gave me the space I needed to figure out how to live again after losing my sister. My year in the sanatorium of books allowed me to redefine what is important for me and what can be left behind. Not all respites from life can be so all-consuming – I will never again read a book a day for one year – but any break taken from the frenetic pace of busy days can restore the balance of a life turned topsy turvy.
My hiatus is over, my soul and my body are healed, but I will never leave the purple chair for long. So many books waiting to be read, so much happiness to be found, so much wonder to be revealed.”