My 10th grader son, Jordan, has been assigned a research paper for his school work. He was given a list of literary authors and has to choose one to write about. He must have at least seven references on the author's life, biographies that give information on how the author's life and events in his life, influenced his writings.
Jordan selected Leo Tolstoy, a Russian born literary writer. On a return visit from the local library, I gazed at the stack of eight books, all various biographies or books which provide reference to Tolstoy's life. I picked up one that caught my attention, it had a picture of an old fashioned, purple padded, reading chair, in front of a enormous book case, completely filled with books. The title, TOLSTOY and the PURPLE CHAIR. The subtitle, My Year Of Magical Reading. The author of the book is Nina Sankovitch.
That title alone peaked my interest, so I scanned over the table of contents to find a chapter that would relate specifically to Tolstoy. There it was, the very last chapter of the book! 'Tolstoy in My Purple Chair'. I found out that Nina Sankovitch was a daughter of immigrant parents. She wrote how in the war, her father had contracted tuberculosis, probably when living in a refugee camp in southern Germany. At the age of twenty-four, he had been accepted into a prestigious medical school in Belgium, but part of the enrolment, required a medical examination. This is where they discovered the spots on his lungs. Forced to put medical school on hold, he was taken to a sanatorium where the healthy air of the open hills of Eupen could heal him. This town was set among meadows and forests close to the border between Belgium and Germany. The sanatorium he was sent to, to recover from his illness, provided a much needed pause in his life. Nina wrote about how the patients' mornings were spent in reading novels aloud to each other, and talking. How the meals would be large and sustaining, and in the afternoons, they would all be put up in cots on the vast veranda, wrapped up in warm blankets. They would overlook a spectacular countryside, while being bathed in the warm sunshine and fresh, mountain air. They spent their days making meaningful friendships with fellow patients, playing chess, reading and brushing up on their various European languages. Nina described her father's experience at the sanatorium as, "a suspension of activity between war and peace. A hiatus between the murders of His sisters and brothers, his forced separation from his parents and village, his months as a soldier and a refugee, and the next part of His life, the part in which he found my mother, moved to America, and welcomed the arrival, one by one, of His three girls."
I have to say, reading about that sanatorium made me long for something similar. Basking in the sun, on a veranda in the European countryside while reading novels, making meaningful relationships, without a responsibility or care in the world, is more appealing to me than just about anything else I can think of right now.
Anyhow, back to Nina and Tolstoy. The book seems to be a story of the Sankovitch family. Somewhere amongst all its twists and turns, Nina suffers the loss of her older sister and idol, Anna-Marie, due to a cancerous tumour during her early forties. The girls both loved reading and would often discuss their books and favourite authors, at length. The event of Anna-Marie's death was extremely difficult for Nina. But somewhere, in her struggling through the pain, inspired by something her sister had said to her, she came to the decision to read one book a day for an entire year and write about what she read. Nina describes what her experience has taught her, by explaining a novella she read by Leo Tolstoy, The Forged Coupon. Basically, "Tolstoy examines the twists and turns that one life takes, and the impact that one person can make on the life of another." It pretty much becomes a "pay it forward" story, where a series of circumstances all gone wrong, make a drastic change when one good and generous act sets in motion a progression of goodness. She quoted Tolstoy, who wrote, "The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity."
Just as her father spent two years in the sanatorium, putting his life on pause, to reboot, recharge and heal. She explains how her year of reading one book a day, and writing about each book, did just the same for her. Those books took her to a place where she learnt to hold onto the memories of all the beautiful moments and people in her life, to get her through difficult times. They taught her to allow forgiveness and embrace the powerful force of love. Through the books, she discovered how kindness is the greatest connector between us and the rest of the world.
Perhaps what intrigued me the most about TOLSTOY and the PURPLE CHAIR, is how taking the 'time out' each day, to fill our minds with a good book, over time, can result in our lives becoming far more meaningful than we ever expected. Now imagine if we chose to read the Word of God, every day, for a year. If we asked the Holy Spirit to be our reading companion, to make the words come alive and soak into the depths of our soul. To have His love and kindness touch our lives through what we read on the pages, and be washed in the freedom forgiveness and redemption bring.
The difference between reading about all the life experiences recorded in the books, and reading the Word of God, is that it is an experience in itself. It's meeting the Living God, face to face, heart to heart; and having His life power transform who we are as people, from the inside out.
Nina's final sentence in her book reads, "I offer thanks and reverence to all the great authors I've read during the past forty-plus years and from whom I hope to keep drawing wisdom, comfort, pleasure, escape, and joy until my last breath." I believe I can echo her sentiment, having found the life, peace and joy from reading the wisdom and truth from God's Word each day. What a privilege to experience the joy of being transformed through the love of reading a very good book.