June 2011

Reading all day

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When her sister Anne-Marie died after a brief but debilitating illness, Nina Sankovitch took refuge in her old purple chair, surrounded by stacks of books that both she and her sister loved. Much as Joan Didion launched into her “year of magical thinking” following the death of her husband, Sankovitch launched into a year of magical reading as her own suspension in time between the overwhelming sorrow of her sister’s death and the future that awaited her.

Knowing how easy it would be to lose herself and her grief in the many busy little things that make up everyday life, Sankovitch allowed herself a year not to run, worry, control or make money. As she turned 46 (the age at which her sister died), she and her husband raised a toast to the commencement of her year of reading books—one book every day. “All the books would have been the ones I would have shared with Anne-Marie if I could have,” she writes.

Sankovitch inaugurated a website,, where she reflected daily on the book she had just read. Seeking to bask in the memories of her sister’s life, to fill the void left by her death and to share her highs and lows with other readers, she feasted upon a banquet of books that ranged from Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants to Ross MacDonald’s The Ferguson Affair and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, devouring themes from love and death, to war and peace, to loss and hope.

In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, her affectionate and inspiring paean to the power of books and reading, Sankovitch gracefully acknowledges that her year of reading was an escape into the healing sanctuary of books, where she learned how to move beyond recuperation to living.

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