Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tolstoy & The Purple Chair {Book Review & List of Three}

When my book club picked Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch for the month my first thought was, "Why do I want to read a book about a woman who is talking about all the books that she's read? How interesting is that going to be?" Well, let me tell ya - it was pretty darn interesting.  Based on her real life experiences, Nina shares that the untimely death of her older sister spurred the idea of reading a book a day and blogging a review of it. What I thought was going to be a 240 pg long book report was actually a beautifully woven novel of her going through the grieving process and the books that helped her do it. I love that Nina was very honest about HOW she read a book a day and all the priorities that she let go to do it - she didn't make the reader believe it was an easy task, but actually made you want to try it yourself {or at least someday when your kids are a bit older}. I think this book is a testament of how books can effect our lives, how a book can define a moment or a feeling and how a book can take you far away for a little vacation from life. I really enjoyed this book and I hope if you have read it you will share your feelings about it too! At the end of the book she lists all 365 books that she read made my "To Reads" list a bit longer!
As I was reading this book I started to think about the books that have "stuck with me" through my life. Books that have helped me through a tough time. Define feelings or emotions in a way that I couldn't express. Represent an era or a memory. Nan & I will share our three and we hope that you will share yours:

1. Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola. This is a children's book that is my all-time favorite. I remember having it read to me when I was little. I loved that it was based in Sicily {where my Father was born} and I LOVED that it had to do with pasta! Every time I read it I think back on my grandparents, my father's stories of growing up and of course...the spaghetti. Oh the spaghetti!!

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I remember reading this in AP English and thinking "Wow this is nothing like the movies" and then went on with my class work. Then, almost a decade later, I was listening to Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" a radio program where Paul Harvey talks about popular points in history, politics & literature and tells you...the rest of the story. Most of us know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein for a horror story writing contest that she was having against fellow writers while on vacation {those authors....they really know how to party!}. Well it just so happens that Mary Shelley happened to have suffered through a few miscarriages & two stillbirths. Those deaths of her children made her think about the death of a body, the chance of bringing it back to life again and contemplate the consequences of that. Around the time I heard this broadcast I was also going through the grief of having a stillbirth. The minute I heard Paul Harvey end with "and that's the rest of the story" I was at the library checking out my copy of Frankenstein. I read it with new eyes. It will always still with me as a symbol of another mother's catharsis of dealing with her stillbirth and how it helped me with mine.

3. Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman by Emily Watts. The title alone is what drew me in and the fact that it was a whole 58 pages long sealed the deal. I had just had Baby S. after a stressful/wonderful pregnancy. I had finally gotten down the times that he napped & I showered. I felt like I was doing okay, but really...unbalanced. This book put me at ease and made me feel like I was doing just fine. All of the pressures I was putting on myself {perfect wife, perfect mommy, perfectly clean house & gourmet dinners} were silly and unimportant. After reading this I felt much more balanced being unbalanced...if that makes sense. {Not to mention being able to read a book during that busy time...that felt good too!}

This is tough!  I could probably come up with twenty books that have had a big impact on me, but this is what I've settled on...for now. :)

1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  I liked this book as a kid, but I really came to love it during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.  I was back living with my parents and I got a job working at a daycare.  I was the "teacher" for the two-year-old class.  Me and seven two-year-olds, all day, five days a week.  I started out with a co-teacher, but she left after about a week and it was just me and those seven kiddos for the rest of a long, hot summer.  Let me tell you, that was both the hardest and the best job I have ever had.  There were times that I wanted to pull my hair out and run for the hills, but there were so many sweet, fun moments that balanced out the frustration.  Where the Wild Things Are was a popular choice for storytime, and eventually I had the entire book memorized; I could "read" it to the kids without looking at the pages.  That was almost ten years ago, and now those two-year-olds are twelve and probably starting middle school.  But whenever I read Where the Wild Things are now, I'm transported back to that daycare classroom, with seven sets of eyes watching me and sticky kisses on my cheeks.

2. Families Are Forever...If I Can Just Get Through Today! by Janice Madsen Weinheimer.  This is a really strange selection; I realize this.  It's a book written by a woman who has nine children -- two singles, two sets of twins, and one set of triplets.  The author talks about what it was like raising that many children, how she and her husband structured their home, things like that.  My mom purchased the book when it came out in the '70s, before she had a family of her own, and I decided to read it as a teenager.  Coming from a very small family, I was fascinated by the dynamics of such a large family and loved reading about the ins and outs of their everyday lives.  I've read it -- or at least parts of it -- multiple times.  When I left home, my mom gave me the book since I've read it more than she has. :)

3. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  Opening this book is like seeing an old friend.  I think the first time I read it was when I was in 6th grade; my grandma had been talking about how much she loved it, and my grandma is not a big reader, so I took the recommendation pretty seriously.  My dad found me a copy and I devoured the book.  6th grade was definitely an awkward time: I was frustrated with still being in elementary school but scared to go to middle school, I was going through some major transitions in friendships, and then I was experiencing all of those joys of adolescence.   Daddy-Long-Legs gave me a chance to escape the uncertainties of my life and provided something for me to discuss with my grandmother.  I have reread it more times than I can count.  There's nothing particularly amazing about the storyline or the writing, but it is a book that I loved in a time when everything was changing.

What about you?  What books have made an impact on your life?


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