By Nina Sankovitch
I have always been a reader. As a child, I’d rather have gone to the local bookmobile than to a carnival. Books were the glue that held my family together, through high and low times. But when my oldest sister died of cancer at the age of forty-six, I reacted by running as fast as I could away from her death and my fears of death.
I was determined to live a life worth living, full of activities and commitments, trying to keep everyone around safe, and me, comforted. No matter how fast I ran and how much I did, however, I could not relieve my sorrow. Finally, after three years of craziness, I realized what I needed to do. I needed to return to books and to reading in order to find answers, and comfort and escape.
I began a project to read a book a day and write about every book I read. To some people reading a book a day may seem like a form of mania but for me it was pure pleasure. Through the connections I made with books and authors and even other readers, my life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. My book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, tells the story of my year of magical reading and of my lifetime of reading.
In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, my year of reading showed me how I could meaningfully deepen the quality of my everyday life — by taking the time to truly live it. For me, the five daily things all women should do for themselves are clear: read, talk, walk (while singing), write, and smile.
Next: Read and Talk1) Read. For escape, for guidance, for comic relief or for company in grief. Read while eating lunch or breakfast. I know a woman who works a full day and has a forty minute commute: to ensure she has time to read, she wakes extra early every single morning and has a leisurely cup of coffee while reading. My oldest sister reads while blow-drying her hair. My mother reads in the bath.
The year I read a book a day was one of the most joyous and yet peaceful years of my life, not only because of the reading but because of the time I made for my reading: scheduled, focused, don’t-mess-with-me time. Now that my year of intense reading is over, the habits of daily reading continue: books are on my kitchen counter, right by the bread box and peanut butter, and I always carry a book with me in my bag for when I’m stuck waiting somewhere.
After dinner, I skip Facebook updates and NCIS reruns for the joy of sitting down and reading. The best moments ever are when one of my kids sits down beside me with a book and then the cats join us. Even if it is only for thirty minutes a day, reading is therapy and recuperation is its reward.
2) Talk. With no purpose other than to share a funny story or hear how someone else’s day went. What you will find is connection and escape, all around you. I had thought the year I read a book a day would be a very solitary year for me, time spent sitting in a chair and reading, with little interaction with the outside world. I was so wrong! Any time I wasn’t reading, I was talking — to friends, my kids, the neighbors, the neighbors’ kids — about everything! My curiosity about the world around me grew, fed by all the great stuff I was reading.
If such interesting people existed on paper, surely they were all around me. And you know what? They were. Once I made the time to really talk to people and ask about their thoughts or activities or dreams, I found so much that I shared with them or I was offered brand-new experiences, events that became my own for the sharing.
Talking is like reading, finding the connection through sharing, but with friends, not authors and characters. And like reading, by talking with others I can be taken outside of my own whirling world of thoughts and brought to a special place with another person.
Next: Walk and Write3) Walk. Sing while walking. You don’t have to walk far or sing loudly. To the mailbox and back will do (three or four refrains of What I Did for Love). Doing what I do, reading and writing, means a lot of time spent in a chair. So I get up and I walk around and I sing, belting out whatever bubbles up to the surface (The Impossible Dream, anyone?). When my kids were little and things got a bit hairy (as in cranky mom and whiny children), I would set off singing and my kids followed in a line, singing along or on their own. We always felt better afterwards!
As happens when I read a great book or have a good talk, when I walk and sing I find myself moving to another place, out of my own head and escaping from the little pressures of the day. I return from my walk feeling charged-up, alert and focused.
4) Write. Write down your thoughts about the book you read or about the great talk you just had with a friend or about the song you sang on the way to the mailbox. Keeping just a palm-sized journal in your handbag makes it easy to record little moments of bliss, and you can go back and revisit the bliss when and as needed.
When my first child was just a few months old, I took him out for a walk one evening, just before dusk. The trees were at the height of their fall color and the air was crisp; the scent of coming rain was in the air and fallen leaves crackled below his stroller as I pushed him across Central Park.
Now that my son is almost eighteen and going off to college in the fall, the words I wrote down that night when we returned home from our walk — the flame-burst trees that kiss the ground with descending leaves and the tightening cold and hardened smell — make me smile, even as tears well-up, and offer me the hope that our shared memories will offer comfort — we will remember the beauty of this last day of your first November — when we are apart, and missing each other.
Next: Smile!5) Smile. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. I do this and I know it works: to see myself smiling reminds me of all the reasons I’ve ever smiled and the memories make me smile, all over again. I recognize in my smile the person I was when I was very little and still certain that any dream of mine could come true. I see in my smile the graduate, the bride, and the new mother.
I have been through many times of sorrow. When my oldest sister died, I suffered through a long period of loss and grief and anger, but I did, finally, through reading and talking and walking and singing, return to a place where once again I could smile. Now I make sure to smile in appreciation of life, and of all that I have been given. And I smile because smiling, like reading, talking, walking, singing, and writing, is very, very good for you. Every day.
Nina Sankovitch is the author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. Nina has always been a reader. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives–if we only find the time. Learn more on Nina’s blog, Read All Day.