Tag Archives: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Picking Favorites: Books That Make Me Sigh With Satisfaction

The most common question I am asked during my book tour for Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, is: what was your favorite book of the year? I can understand the question. For one year I read a book a day and wrote about each book I read. I read 365 books, all new to me, by 365 different authors. Of course I must have had favorites. But one favorite? When my year was over, I had over ninety books on my website’s list of “Great Books.” Different books that wowed me, awed me, and made me sigh when I’d finished reading them: sighs of satisfaction and sighs wishing for more. Sighs that are signs of a great book.

A great book happens when I pick up a book and can’t put it down again; when I cannot suppress the sighs upon finishing it; when I cannot wait to tell everyone I know: read this book!

But how to pick a favorite? No one would ever ask me to pick which of my children is my favorite, or which of my parents or sisters I prefer over the other. Family cannot be so divided up, one on the side designated “favorite” and all the others grim-faced on the other side of the line, designated “not-so-favorite.” The books I love are like family (complete with a black sheep or two) and I cannot select one out of the bunch to deem most favored, most special, or most great.

As a child, it was easy to pick a best friend, a favorite sibling, and a favorite book: Harriet the Spy was my first favorite book, and later, Nancy Drew’s The Clue in the Old Album too its place. By high school, I had discovered Graham Greene and The Burnt-Out Case and on the cusp of college, Nadime Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter took favored book status. And then as I settled into being an adult, the favorite books instead became favored authors: Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Dickens, Philip Roth, Stewart O’Nan, Thrity Umrigar, Colin Channer, Ursula Le Guin, Barbara Kingsolver, Martha Grimes, Geraldine Brooks, Jose Saramago — but the list goes on and on, and I cannot possibly name all my favorites, much less pick one favorite book or author, or even genre.

I still fall in love with books, feel the sighs of happiness and satisfaction, and run to the phone to tell everyone I know to read my latest find of greatness. But one favorite book? Can’t do it. Please don’t make me try. But while we’re here: what’s your all-time favorite book? I always have room for more, and lungs strong enough to sigh deeply, again and again.

This post was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Save a Bookstore: Buy a Book (or Two, or Three)

Tomorrow June 25th is Save a Bookstore Day, with its own Facebook event page and a very clear agenda: on Saturday, all of us who love our local bookstore, will go out and show our love by buying a book at that bookstore — or an armload of books, if the pocketbook allows.

Not sure where your local bookstore is? Check out Indiebound’s helpful bookstore searcher, mark your routes, grab your kids, and get yourself out to the bookstore tomorrow. Be sure to pick up Tolstoy and the Purple Chair for all the book lovers you know — or for anyone looking for ideas on the meaning of life — and why not grab S.J. Bolton’s latest thriller, Now You See Me, for great summer reading? I also recommend Phil Rickman’s The Bones of Avalon, for a great Tudor mystery; Geraldine Brooks’ beautiful Caleb’s Crossing for compelling historical fiction; and Otto Penzler’s wild The Big Book of Adventure Stories, perfect for reading on the beach, in between dips into the water and trips to the ice cream stand.

Bookstores provide flavor, life, and pleasure to our towns, cities, and villages — don’t let them disappear, falling victim to the economy, the internet, the UPS delivery guy. Buy food local, and buy books local. Just imagine what lengths our local bookstores might have to go to, if we don’t go out tomorrow and next week and the week after, to pick up a book or two. What happened in Russia could happen here….

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair Recommended for Summer Reading

Kirkus Reviews has named Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, to its list of recommended summer reading for women. What’s on your list this summer? I have been getting in shape for my summer reading and I’m ready to leap in!

For months, people around me have been gearing up for the summer season by working out, putting in extra sessions at the gym or on the treadmill to get their body ripped and ready for beach or pool. I have been busy getting myself ready — and ripped — for summer reading. I’ve vanquished the flab in my bookshelves (impulse buys I never read have been sent off to the library book sale), oiled the joints on my bifocal sunglasses, and bulked up the piles of new reading material. Most importantly, I have committed myself to reading on a planned schedule of maximum mind-blowing routines.

I will mix up my daily sessions, going from heart-pumping (cardio!) workouts of crime thrillers and mystery chillers — SJ Bolton’s newest thriller, Now You See Me, just came out — to stretching and contemplative sessions centered on books such as Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes and Sigrid Nunez’s memoir of Susan Sontag, Sempre Susan. There will the sweaty but invigorating workouts provided by my book tour, wherein I will be reading aloud from my book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, and some serious heavy-lifting in the reading (not aloud) of Harold Bloom’s latest, The Anatomy of Influence, and Toby Wilkinson’s history, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. I won’t forget to cool down after my intense workouts, and first choice for being cool are the noir short story collections published by Akashic Books; Cape Cod Noir and Pittsburgh Noir are coming out just in time.

Some exercise gurus recommend a day of rest, but I am no wimp. Every day will be a workout (READING!) day for me this summer. You’ll know who I am, the one on the beach with the square of white on my belly where I rest my book and the glow of satisfaction on my face. There is nothing like the feel of a comfy beach chair, the smell of Coppertone on warm skin, the taste of an iced wine spritzer, and the reading of a great book, to make summer dreams come true.

I invite everyone to join me in my quest for ripped-reading. After all, a well-read body is the hottest body of all.

This post is adapted from one posted on The Huffington Post.

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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: Reader’s Guide and Photo Gallery

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is out! So far, the reactions have been wonderful. Thank you to all the readers who have been so welcoming and kind! I am making new friends, reconnecting with old friends, and I am continuously awed by the support of my stalwart Westport companions in reading. Together, old friends and new, we are sharing many, many stories of the comfort and joy found in books, when we all needed such succor the most.

It was standing room only at my reading Tuesday night at the Westport Barnes and Noble, and another huge crowd the next day at the Westport Public Library, where laughs were had by all when I claimed to read seventy pages a minute.

Now that the book is in the hands of readers (and I hope soon in the hearts), I’ve put together a Reader’s Guide for book groups and individual readers. In addition, I’ve put together a small photo gallery of family pictures that illustrate some of the moments I recount in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters
And again, the three sisters
Jack and his windsurfer
Traveling through Poland
Our Christmas Play
My father reading to us on Christmas Eve
My mother's santons

More santons

I am holding Lion (trying to keep him quiet)
I am holding Lion (trying to keep him quiet)





Anne-Marie sailing to Fire Island
Anne-Marie playing Scrabble with the boys
Meredith, Me, Peter
A cookie so hard it had to be made into a tree ornament
On the roof of Anne Beattie's apartment
On the roof of Anne Beattie's apartment
My father reading on the porch of the sanatorium at Eupen
Anne-Marie in India

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

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.”


Oprah likes me! She really likes me!

O magazine has listed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as one of ten books to pick up now: “anyone who has ever sought refuge in literature will identify.”

Is there anyone out there who has not sought refuge in literature? Throughout my life, I have looked for and found escape, comfort, wisdom, and pleasure in books. Even as a child who could not yet read, I remember loving books for the feel of the pages and the pictures contained within, and for the sound of my mother’s voice as she deciphered the symbols for me, the words that would transport me to a different place and time.

Thank you, O magazine, for hitting the nail on the head. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is for anyone who has ever sought refuge in a book.

And Oprah really likes me, this time online, as she has listed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as a book to read now: check out her online enthusiasm for Tolstoy and the Purple Chair!

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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: “Outstanding” Debut

I am so thrilled and excited and happy.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kirkus Reviews, for naming Tolstoy and the Purple Chair as one of twelve “Outstanding Debuts of 2011.”  The review, linking from that page, is wonderful —  “Intelligent, insightful and eloquent, Sankovitch takes the leader on the literary journey” — and promises that “even the well-read reader will be inspired to explore some of the books from this magical year.”

For the complete review, visit Kirkus Reviews.