May 18, 2011

Nina Sankovitch

Getting her daily dose of literature
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In October 2008, Nina Sankovitch launched a year-long project: She would read one book a day, every day, for a year. The idea was to give some structure to her life after the tragic death of her older sister. In addition to reading the books, Sankovitch also committed herself to reviewing each of them on a website she created, ReadAllDay. As word of her task spread, her audience grew—and, once the project was completed, Sankovitch wrote a book of her own about her experience, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, an "affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books and reading." We had to ask Sankovitch a few questions about this ambitious project. Her answers just might inspire you to increase your reading goals!

Even people who read a lot might find the thought of reading a book a day daunting. How did you do it (and have any kind of life!)? 
By reading wherever and whenever I could! I'd started my year with a plan to read while the kids were away at school (treating my reading project like a job—the best job I could ever imagine!) but life quickly intervened in the form of sick children, needy cats, curious friends, and a few unexpected twists and turns. Then I realized that I could fit in so much reading by pushing out unnecessary preoccupations, like folding laundry (what's wrong with a clean pile for foraging?) or watching TV or going online (no need to change Facebook status: "reading" just about covered it). 

Reading a book a day didn't take away from "having a life"; it made my life better, richer, fuller, more satisfying. And there was never, ever a day never a day when I woke up and thought to myself, "Oh darn! I have to read a book today." On the contrary: I was eager to get out of bed every morning because I knew I had something new waiting for me: a new landscape to explore, new characters to meet, a new plot to lose myself in and new lessons to learn. 

Have you always been a reader? When did you fall in love with reading? 
I have always loved books. One of my earliest memories is of going to the local bookmobile: how the three steps up seemed so huge to me and how good it smelled when I got inside the cramped, dusty space crowded with books. I was too young to read but I could pick out books for myself and look through them on my own at home or have my mother or sisters read them to me. Once I started to read for myself, I always had books around me, next to my bed, piled on the kitchen counter, in my school bag—and I still live that way! I cannot imagine a day without reading or a home without books. 

What was your favorite read of the year? 
I read too many wonderful books to have one favorite out of 365 books read. On my Readallday site where I posted my daily reviews, I kept a list of "Great Books," books I'd particularly loved. By the end of the year, I had more than 90 books on that list. 

Was there a book you read–or reread—that surprised you?
Every book I read during my year was new to me—one of my self-imposed rules was no re-reads! But I read many books that surprised me because they were from authors I had not known before: it is such a lovely experience to discover books written by someone new, offering something different than anything I'd read before. Ruins by Achy Obejas, The Curriculum Vitae of Aurora Ortiz by Almudena Solana, The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal, The Sun Field by Heywood Braun are just some of the gems I discovered. 

How did you make your selections?
I went through the stacks of my local library or the stacks at book stores, and looked first for books about an inch or so thick, which translated to about 250 to 300 pages. That was the optimal number of pages for a day of good reading. Then I looked through the book, read the first few pages, and if everything clicked for me, I added it to the pile in my arms. Friends gave me books, visitors to my website offered recommendations, and even my kids chimed in with the books I "had" to read. 

On top of reading a book a day, you wrote a review of it. Did you enjoy writing the reviews?
I loved writing the reviews, although the more I'd enjoyed a certain book, the harder it was to write a review: how could I do justice to the beauty, the wit, the creativity of the author, or the magnificence of the book? Whenever I got stuck, I said to myself "What did you love about this book? Just be honest!" and the words would come. By writing about each book I was able to reach deeper into the book and into my own reactions about it, and thus I pulled out even more from the experience of reading. I also was sharing my reviews with other readers and getting responses back, further deepening both my understanding of the book and my experience of it. 

What did your family think of your reading obsession?
They saw how restorative the experience was for me, and how much I was flourishing under the daily reading and writing. It was such a pleasurable regime for me that the good feelings spread throughout our house, mellowing everyone and energizing us all, at the same time. 

What would you say to a person who tells you, "I don't have time to read."
Always carry a book with you and you will discover that there are moments that build into significant time for reading. And the more you find the time, the more you look for it, because reading is such a pleasure, a stimulation and an escape. 

Why should people make an effort to incorporate reading into their lives?
Because of all that books offer: wisdom, humor, company, comfort, and pleasure. My advice to people is that they find books they like to read—what is enjoyable for them, not what someone else dictates as a "must read"—and indulge in the pleasures found there. And don't worry about how many books you read or if the books are "important" enough: every book is worth reading if it brings pleasure, escape, comfort or wisdom, and the number of books matters less than the everyday experience of reading. 

Since completing the challenge of reading a book a day for a year, have your feelings toward reading and books changed at all?
Through my year of reading, I now understand how reading connects me to so many other people. I may read alone but in that reading I am in great company! I remember riding in a cab with a Nigerian driver during my year of reading. He and I began to discuss Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emechata, two writers I had just read. We had a great time talking and when the ride was over, we shook hands good-bye. Two strangers, from opposite sides of the world, and we connected over books. Those connections forged by reading have made me more addicted to reading than ever. The great thing about being addicted to books is that there is such an abundance of books! I will never run out of the stuff that feeds my need to read. I might run out of chocolate, but I can always find books on my shelves, new ones yet to discover or old favorites to enjoy.


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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

ISBN 9780061999840

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