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The Reading Cure

My “on deck” reading list from Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:  Let the Great World Spin, Man in the Dark, Death with Interuptions, The History of Love

For me, reading Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was like diving into a crystalline lake after trying to swim through mud.  Thrity Umrigar best described this book in her cover blurb:  “A dazzling memoir that reminds us of the most primal function of literature—to heal, to nurture, and to connect us to our truest selves.”

Nina Sankovitch’s sister died at age 46 and after three years Nina still hadn’t been able to shake off her sorrow.  As a lifelong bibliophile, it made sense that Sankovitch would turn to books for answers, and so she set herself the goal of reading a book a day, and then writing about each one, for a whole year.  How could I resist a story like that?  Especially in a year when grief had gained a stronghold in my life, with the death of my mother and mother-in-law.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is more than another book about books—it is a history of Sankovitch’s immigrant family, a tribute to her sister, and a monument to her extended family’s love of reading.  By the end of the year, Sankovitch reaches her reading goal.  And she heals:

I have learned, through books, to hold on to my memories of all the beautiful moments and people in my life, as I need those memories to help me through difficult times.  I have learned to allow forgiveness, both of myself and of people around me, all trying “with their heavy burden” just to get by….. 

There is no remedy for the sorrow of losing someone we love, nor should there be.  Sorrow is not an illness or an affliction.  It is the only response possible to the death of a loved one, and an affirmation of just how much we value life itself, for all its wonder and thrill and beauty and satisfaction. 

Our only answer to sorrow is to live.  To live looking backward, remembering the ones we have lost, but also looking forward, with anticipation and excitement.  And to pass on those feelings of hope and possibility through acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.

Nina Sankovitch’s book continues to sooth me as I read some of the same books she read during her so-called “year of magical reading.”  I slide back into the muck of sorrow from time to time, but every book I read is like an outstretched hand, pulling me to clearer waters.


  1. Zak
    July 31, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Ahaha “on deck” that’s great

    • August 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Always good to get comments from my funny son.

  2. D
    August 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Thank you, Laurel. I found your last paragraph particularly helpful and poetic. Is there any among us that cannot appreciate soothing and being assisted into clearer waters?

  3. joan A. Di Masi
    August 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Laurel,
    I do grief counseling and this is really good. Have you thought of having it published?

    • August 4, 2011 at 11:15 am

      Thanks, Joan, but the credit really goes to Nina Sankovitch.

  4. Robin Dile Cuneo
    August 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Great one, Laurel. Gonna pass it along to my Facebook book club.

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