Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch


Two or three stars, read and reviewed in July 2014.

This was not as exciting as I expected it to be, I think because I had a hard time connecting with the author.

It may be obnoxious of me—and this wasn’t the only reason I didn’t connect with her—but I get impatient with women who talk about how stressed they are because they’re so busy making snacks for their teenagers. Look, just don’t do it! Teenagers can feed themselves. I was never one of those super-competent kids who just knew how to do things, but I can’t remember a single time growing up that I waited around while my mom made me a snack; if I was hungry outside a mealtime, I made myself a sandwich or ramen, and my younger siblings were the same. (I say this to provide context for my opinion, not because I think that the way I did things is the way everyone should do things; however, at the same time, I do think it does teenagers a disservice to do things for them that they’re capable of doing themselves.) Seriously, every time Sankovitch mentioned her kids wanting food—and it was a lot of times—she also mentioned personally handing it to them (even at the beach, out of a cooler). She probably just needed home-life scenes to fill out her book, but it is hard for me to read women who act like servants for their families.

I also didn’t find myself as intrigued as I thought I’d be by the books she was reading, possibly because she summarized them (including occasional spoilers). She included a lot of quotes but didn’t draw the conclusions that I would have drawn from them; they often felt sort of thrown out there, to be taken at face value, as though the fact that a character in a book said something makes it undeniably true.

I enjoyed the book just for the premise, which really appeals to me in theory, though I would never want to make reading such a project (since that’s something I already struggle with). She read a “great book” every day for a year, which sometimes meant reading all through the night. But she didn’t do it for its own sake, she did it to help her grieve the loss of her sister. When I think about it in that context, I can see how it would be an excellent, maybe even life-saving coping mechanism.

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