Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch – Book Review

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

When Nina Sankovitch’s sister died of a quickly killing cancer at the age of 46, Nina was heartbroken. Unable to figure out how life without Anne-Marie could even continue to go on, Nina was in a serious funk; certainly she was still functioning, but the day-to-day living was largely without joy, and the reality of grief was wearing Nina down, bit by bit. Finally, Nina realized she had to do something to take back her life, not to forget Anne-Marie, but to make peace with her passing, to escape the grief. It was then that she decided on a year of reading.

Books. The more I thought about how to stop and get myself back together as one sane, whole person, the more I thought about books. I thought about escape. Not running to escape, but reading to escape. –p. 20

And so Nina decided that her job, for one year of her own life, would be simply to read. She was going to read one book per day, and begin every morning by writing a review of the previous day’s book on her website, Along the way, she began to be revived by her time with books, a passion which she and Anne-Marie had always shared.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is an absolutely lovely account of the healing power of literature, of the power that books new and old have to speak to our lives today. That said, it had the potential to go very wrong, a book about all the books one person read in a year could easily be banal, a series of “and then I read… and it was….” Sankovitch managed to take the books she read and the lessons learned from them, though, and weave them together with the year of her life as well as some family history to create a cohesive and compelling narrative with many quotable lines about the power inherent in books.

Similarly risky was the structuring of the narrative with Anne-Marie’s death at the beginning. The reader does not know either Nina or Anne-Marie when their story starts, and so the grief of Anne-Marie’s passing could have fallen flat, been simply an uncomfortable truth. Instead, Nina draws the reader immediately into her family and her own feelings, to the point where you would be better off not starting this book in a public place (I nearly cried in Chipotle).

A story of individual growth and rediscovery, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair manages to avoid the trap of becoming maudlin and ridiculous as so many in that genre fall into, and instead has a note of universality for readers. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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TSS: Let it Snow

We’re in the middle of a winter storm until midnight tonight, although we’re only supposed to get 3-5 inches over all that time. Still, though, I think this is going to be sort of a quiet day at home. At the moment, Daniel and I are watching Elmo, hopefully that won’t be true the whole day long. He does like Elmo a whole lot, though:

I think that I’ll probably make my famous fudge (which is mostly just the same as the back of the marshmallow fluff jar, with a few alterations) for my work cookie exchange while Daniel is napping today, because this fudge takes a few days to set. We’re also going to go and make Christmas cookies with my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law after Daniel’s nap. I’m sure that, on the way, we will play in the snow as well, because Daniel has been having a lot of fun with that this week.

Although I had lots of fun taking videos of Daniel this week, I didn’t get much reading done. In fact, I only finished two books, both of which I also reviewed already (covers link to post):

In addition to those two, I also posted the list for my List Exchange Challenge with Nicole, and reviewed these books:

Hopefully I’ll get a little more read this week

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Books Guaranteed to Put Me To Sleep – Guest Post by Lauren Grodstein, author of “A Friend of the Family”

Lauren Grodstein teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Camden and is the author of “A Friend of the Family,” which I reviewed yesterday.

A few nights ago, after yet another round of searching for the lost pacifier, I found myself, once again, unable to fall back asleep. The house was quiet – the kid snored, the husband snored, the cat snored at the landing at the base of the stairs. These three are frankly outstanding in their ability to go from alert to unconscious in the time it takes a normal person to sneeze. Meanwhile, once I’m up, I’m up – and, at three a.m., I’m usually ticked off, surrounded by snoring and pacifiers, wondering once again how I got into this mess. There was a time in my life when I slept, regularly, til noon! These days it’s a triumph if I’m still asleep at five-thirty.

However, on those occasions I’m able to go back to sleep, it’s usually due to the help of one of four books that now stake permanent territory on my nightstand. These books are well-written enough not to wake up my irritable inner grammar maven, but boring enough not to wake up my imagination, either. They’re like literary Ambien. This week, in honor of daylight savings, I’m sharing this list as a gift to all the exhausted parents out there, since I cannot give them the biggest gift of all: a child who sleeps through the night.

1. In Suspect Terrain, by John McPhee

John McPhee is a masterful reporter who’s done books on everything from oranges (fabulous) to Alaska (a bit meandering at times, but still well worth a read). However, in “In Suspect Terrain,” McPhee, alongside intrepid geologist Anita Harris, documents the geographical history of the eastern United States, spending a whole lot of time at the Delaware Water Gap and dropping mad knowledge about igneous rock and conodonts. The writing is lovely; the topic is dull as, literally, dirt. Four pages in I’m asleep and dreaming about sediment.

2. Fascinating Womanhood, by Helen B. Andelin

This gem is actually very absorbing the first few times you read it; it’s a 1960s guide to man-catching, akin to 1996’s The Rules, and full of such pearls as “Beneath his desire for worldly acclaim lies an even more intense yearning, and it is HIS DESIRE TO BE A HERO IN YOUR EYES. It is for this he lives and breathes.” (caps author’s). When I first read this book in my twenties, this advice seemed hugely amusing, but ten years later, with my hero fast asleep next to me, reading it not only knocks me out, it also knocks out my ability to feel any sort of amusement whatsoever.

3. The Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen.

Virtuous vegetarian recipes; sweet black-and-white illustrations. Pass me some of that Arabian Squash-Cheese Casserole before I lose consciousness forever.

4. Lonely Planet Vancouver, by the Lonely Planet people.

Vancouver, as a city, has many of the same qualities I look for in a sleeping aid: it’s pleasing, calm, attractive, and, deep down, just the tiniest bit boring. Believe me, I love Vancouver the way any normal person loves maritime Canada, and I keep this guide on my nightstand because it’s as close as I’m going to get to the city any time soon. Nevertheless, what is Vancouver if not rainy weather, homemade scones, urban kayaking, and efficient public transportation? Just thinking about it makes me drowsy in the nicest possible way.

So there you go: my four insomniac go-tos. If you have any suggestions of books that knock you out, please email me at Three in the morning is coming all too soon, and believe me when I tell you I need all the help I can get.

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson – Audiobook Review

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson, narrated by Renee Raudman
Published in Audio by Tantor Audio
Published in Print by Plue, an imprint of Penguin


Carley Wells doesn’t have a whole lot going for her. She’s heavy, not particularly good at school, and not exactly popular in rich and chic Fox Glen. Eager to make her shine for her 16th birthday: they are going to commission an author to write a novel to coordinate with her birthday party theme. The author, Bree McEnroy, has been tasked with writing a book that Carley will love, but as Carley doesn’t think much of books and reading, this may be a more difficult commission than Bree bargained for. Hunter Kay is another complicating factor. As Carley’s best friend and a huge fan of the written word he initially spends a good deal of time helping Bree and Carley’s creative process along, but it becomes increasingly apparent that Hunter’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs is a much bigger problem than he wants to let on – a revelation that has great impact on all of the people around him.

Thoughts on the story:

I am completely amazed that I didn’t absolutely hate each and every character. Everyone, with the exception of the author, Bree McEnroy, had entirely too much money for his or her own good, to the point where frivolous purchasing what the name of the game. I mean, for pete’s sake, Carley’s parents basically bought her a novelist in order to impress their friends and make her look better for colleges. What could be more ridiculous than that? Then there’s the fact that the only things most of the kids in Fox Glen seemed to care about were drugs and sex – maybe being popular and fitting in as well. Really, not much could sound less appealing to me.

And yet, Egan Gibson managed to humanize her main characters to a degree I would not expect, given their most prominent qualities. In fact, I was really impressed with how, not only did I not completely hate the characters, I actually felt sympathy for most of them. And that’s really saying something, because ‘poor little rich girl’ doesn’t usually elicit much sympathy from me. That, in my opinion, is an impressive quality in an author.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I very much enjoyed Renee Raudman’s work narrating “How to Buy a Love of Reading.” I thought that she was well cast in the part, and she gave both life and depth to her characters. And, praises be, she did not interpret them as whiny, as she might have most annoyingly done. Her narration certainly helped keep Egan Gibson’s characters in the realm of surprisingly sympathetic, instead of simply obnoxious spoiled brats.


I was definitely nervous during the first part of this book that I was going to hate the characters so much that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth introduced by Egan Gibson and the way that Raudman’s narration supported the story. Recommended.

Note: although the chief protagonist of the story is a high school girl, “How to Buy a Love of Reading” doesn’t come across as a YA book. I believe that adults, as well as older teens, would enjoy this story.

The audiobook has a similar cover design as the hardcover, but “How to Buy a Love of Reading” was recently released in paperback, with this new cover.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio
Amazon: Audio

This review was done with a book received from the Tantor audio.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

TSS: Bloggers, Bloggers Everywhere

In my first two years of blogging, I only had two opportunities to meet other bloggers. There are so many bloggers that I talk to on a regular basis that I’ve never met in real life, but this week I’m changing that!

I started off the weekend by meeting the fabulous Michelle from Michelle’s Masterful Musings who is in town for the weekend. We met at my favorite bookstore, The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn (I’m not sure that book bloggers are capable of meeting somewhere that doesn’t revolve around books). My favorite booksellers Margie and Sue were nice enough to come in on their day off to help us pick out some books and go to lunch with us.

And, of course, this coming week is BEA! Lots of bloggers are already in New York, but I’m not leaving until Tuesday night – hard to leave a cutie like Daniel for too long! I’m really looking forward to my time away in New York, though. I’ve done a lot of prep work to figure out what sort of stuff I want to be doing while I’m there, and I actually posted some of the ideas for any of you whose schedules aren’t finalized. I have posts about the panels and BEA events, author signings, and outside events that book bloggers are excited about.

Last Sunday I was sort of stressing out about how many books I was trying to get finished before I leave for BEA. Amazingly, I actually finished everything on my schedule already and think I’ll finish 1 or 2 more before I leave (I’m already halfway through one).

Here’s what I finished last week, but before you freak out, remember that I didn’t read all of “Wolf Hall” last week, I only finished the last section.

All five of these are scheduled for review in the next two weeks, so keep a look out.

Speaking of reviews, here’s what I reviewed last week:

Oh, and Beth Hoffman, author of “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” wrote a guest post about friendship, that has a giveaway attached, if you missed it!

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