When Sankovitch lost her sister to a fast-moving cancer, she realized not only the fragility of life but a grief impossible to shake, despite her own busy life. To help her through the mourning process, Sankovitch, an environmental lawyer, allowed herself to step back from her work duties. The mother of four and Harvard graduate also allowed herself time to get lost in books. Out of her darkness has come Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. The memoir details not only how she read a book a day and posted reviews of each online, but also the story of the Sankovitch family. There's Nina's father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her rambunctious children, who offer their own book recommendations while helping with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life.
What's on your nightstand?
I'm dipping in and out of The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson. Supposedly it explodes the myths of what life is like in ancient Egypt. It is not so rosy. And I'm also enjoying Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. It's set during 1666 in a small town in England.
Are you a return fan of Brooks?
Yes. I like the way she tries to use language that is true to the period. The characters fit naturally but they are historically placed, and you feel like you've gone back to a time and place and not in a fake way. She is less successful at this in her People of the Book, but her new one, Caleb's Crossing, is amazing at this. I do enjoy historical fiction.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer