Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
How one woman used books to cope with her sister's death.
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Quite a mash note. What did Anne-Marie do to earn such adulation? Her virtue seems to rest largely on having stopped the author, at age 12, from riding the wrong bus into a down-at-heel district of Chicago, one with bars, liquor stores, pawn shops, and decrepit apartment buildings.Skip to next paragraph
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“’You saved my life,’” Sankovitch recalls gasping to her sister at the time. Four decades later, she never really reconsiders the drama of her statement or leaves off its adolescent credulity.
That makes her memoir not complex but rather sweet, profoundly sincere, and wholly devoted to its subject: the search for sustenance in the face of sorrow. The book’s lack of skepticism may fail to spark reader interest in the author’s close relationships. But it’s intriguing at least for the role that ritual plays in her grasp at meaning.
Facing guilt or loss, some turn to old rites: making confession, sitting shiva, or gathering together with friends. In this age of the self, however, Sankovitch has adapted the tradition of shared mourning into a novel form of solace. Hers consists of curling up with a book a day – and then posting a review of it, the next day, online.
In fact, she developed a following for her blog, ReadAllDay.org, and fans wrote to suggest favorite titles. “I received an e-mail from a man in New York City who had been doing research for a book club meeting,” she gushes, adding, “He and I, complete strangers, made a connection through our love of books. A reader reached out from Germany, the sister of a friend wrote from Brazil,” she enumerates, and “a woman wrote from Singapore, and I had a whole slew of British book lovers writing in with recommendations.”
Whether or not such effusing makes for a strong memoir, it’s a marker of the times. Calling into the void for reassurance is a universal trend. Through the magic of cyberspace, sometimes – often – someone replies.