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A book a day keeps the abyss away

October 12, 2009
Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch

A Connecticut woman is closing in on her goal of reading a book a day for one year, reports The New York Times. As of yesterday, Nina Sankovitch had read 350 books since her last birthday, Oct. 28. Is it okay to hate her?

And while she has read some mysteries, some popular writers and some science fiction, for the most part Sankovitch pursues her taste in literary fiction — serious books by demanding writers the likes of W.G. Sebold, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Chinua Achebe, Ernest Hemingway, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Sankovitch, 46, is married with four children still at home. Her primary concession to the tyranny of time is that she generally selects books of manageable length — 250 to 300 pages. As the Times reports, she took on Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 rather than the longer, denser Gravity’s Rainbow.

But she has also, on occasion, read books of significantly greater length, such as C.J. Sansom’s Revelation, a historic murder mystery of 560 pages. Sankovitch’s only rules: She reads a book a day, she never takes up a book she’s already read, and she posts a review the next morning on her shiny website, Read All Day.

How does she do it? For one thing, Sankovitch is smarter than most of us, a former environmental lawyer with a Harvard education. She’s “comfortable economically,” with an unstintingly supportive husband, and though she does ironing and other family chores, she has some paid help with housework.

She’s also given up gardening, “The New Yorker, wasting time online, ambitious cooking, clothes shopping, coffee with friends.”

Why does she do it? “I love to read,” Sankovitch writes on her website, “and there’s nothing I would rather do than read all day. So why not?”

Those of us who also love to read but who unfortunately have to work for a living may be forgiven for viewing Sankovitch with a mixture of admiration and skepticism, awe and something approaching class envy. Sure, lady, I’d like to read all day, too, but right now I have to go buy a lottery ticket.

Sankovitch has other motives, some lofty, some personal. She wants to “share my joy in reading and to encourage others to find in books the pleasures and knowledge and connections and inspirations that I have found all my life.” She’s aware that few people could read as she’s reading now, but she suggests that a book a week is not out the question for even busy people.

The Read All Day project is also a way to “assuage the sorrow I have felt since my sister died four years ago” at the age Sankovitch is now. “But I am not only reading to compensate, I am reading to endure. Books — especially novels — offer a window into how other people deal with life, it’s sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations.”

Okay, skepticism withers in the face of such unguarded personal and literary devotion. But it stiffens again at the slickness of Sankovitch’s website. Despite its admirable qualities, the Read All Day project has an air of calculated gimmickry about it. After all, Julie Powell got a book and movie deal out of a similar blog on cooking.

The proof may lie in Sankovitch’s reviews — heartfelt but clear-eyed, they are the product of a serious reading and a genuine, if personal, aesthetic response to the book she’s just read. They are not the work of a skimmer.

Considering Anna-In-Between, by Elizabeth Nunez — one of the authors at this year’s Miami Book Fair International (Nov. 8-15)–Sankovitch writes: “Anna is one confused woman but her confusion is presented so surely and so genuinely by Nunez that we are not confused: we are with Anna every step of the way as she struggles to work out how she could move forward, how she can comfort her mother assure her father, and find her own place in her family on her island, and in her life back in New York City.”

So I set aside my resentment and wish Sankovitch the best. Powell’s book, Julie & Julia, and the Meryl Streep movie made from it, have revived interest in Julia Child’s work. Maybe a book and movie from Sankovitch could help restore public interest in reading in general.

For what it’s worth, I have in mind Sandra Bullock as Sankovitch and Bill Pullman as her uber-supportive husband.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Bonnie DiPacio permalink
    October 12, 2009 1:09 pm

    More power to her, but I enjoy reading at a leisurely pace, savoring the words. And when I complete one book, I wait a day or two to digest that book before I can dive into another.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 12, 2009 1:21 pm

    Indeed. And I find The New Yorker a good palate cleanser in between. I could not imagine, for example, going straight from the Collected Works of John Cheever to anything else until I’d had a chance for my agitated spirit to calm down some.

  3. Lizz permalink
    October 12, 2009 1:32 pm

    My great aunt is the most impressive reader I know; she reads at least 2 books a week and the entire New York Times daily (on Sundays, she professes that it takes her quite a bit of time). But she’s 94 and lives alone. I think reading is a way to keep her head sharp and her loneliness at bay. I have always wanted to read like her, but it takes a deep self-discipline that I do not have, at least not now.

    I’m impressed by Sankovitch and as long as it’s not a skimmer’s plot to get into a movie, I think that it’s an impressive challenge which may inspire others to read more.

    Chauncey, “Sure, lady, I’d like to read all day, too, but right now I have to go buy a lottery ticket.” That’s Hilarious.

  4. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 12, 2009 1:55 pm

    Wish I could do that. But I have to work and anyway, I don’t think I could read that fast. More power to Sankovitch. And her understanding husband.

    You, Chauncey, read more than anyone I know.

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 12, 2009 5:36 pm

    You flatter me, Candice. I certainly don’t read as much as I wish I could.

  6. Love permalink
    October 12, 2009 8:34 pm

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  7. rachel permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:29 pm

    Sure, I’d like to read (practically) all day too, but unfortunately I have to go to work. And even if I could be at home I wouldn’t force books down my throat like unwanted vegetables. I love reading and I want it to remain that way, I don’t want it to be a chore. I read about a book a week, so I guess if I didn’t have to work I would read more in a sort of natural rather than artificial manner.

    You, Chauncey Mabe, may be able to let go of your resentment, but I’m not willing to let go of mine.

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