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Friday, September 2, 2011

Literature As Lifeline

Of the books I finished during my self-imposed exile from blogging, I'm compelled to write about and highly recommend one: Tolstoy & The Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch (2011). This memoir, itself about how literature can act as a lifeline, served exactly that purpose for me. When has this happened for you?

To help herself heal from the death of her beloved older sister, Sankovitch read a book every day for a full year. Just accomplishing the reading would have been impressive enough, but the author also posted a review online every day for each of the 365 books. Now, a few years after, comes this wise and wonderful book about her "year of magical reading". Putting aside the 365, the author's writing reveals a lifelong immersion in literature. Each chapter opens with a luminous epigraph, some lifted from the 365, others not. And she skillfully toggles between the past & present - moving stories about her sisters & parents next to the events of the year as it unfolds. Finally, the book is brimming with sentences, paragraphs, sections using the "power of three" to stunning effect - "Life had unleashed its unfairness, its random dispersal of pain, its uncaring lynching of certainty".

About midway through her book, Sankovitch speaks of "The Open Door" by Elizabeth Maguire, a fictional re-imagining of the life of a 19th century author named Constance Fenimore Woolson. When Sankovitch describes how Maguire's book & Woolson's work have created  for her "...a mountain, standing glorious for all time...", I found myself thinking the same thought about Sankovitch's book. I plan to write her and say this book was a lifeline for me - a mountain, standing glorious for all time.    


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