The Common Reader & Four Literary Links

Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch

Last week I was still on the bench about Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:  My Year of Magical Reading, her fascinating book about reading a book a day so she could sit still and grieve her sister’s death from cancer.  Blogging about the books was part of her daily routine.

After finishing the book, I loved it.  Sankovitch is a champion of the common reader.  It has always seemed to me that the common reader can explore literature with fire and avidity while the critic is tied to the convention of dry, bitter remarks even in a positive review.  Sankovitch is moved by books, and often finds connections to her own experience.  And isn’t this how we read?

She started her  project, wanting to read as she hadn’t read since she had knee surgery.

I resubmerged myself in a daily routine of hours spent reading.  But I had added a new practice to the routine.  I wrote about what I read, and I talked about books with anyone who wanted to talk with me.  In sharing ideas and thoughts about what I was reading, I found a fundamental new satisfaction in books:  talking about them.

One thing I love about this book is her enthusiasm.  In 1989, the critic Irving Howe complained in an article in The New Republic about the wide gap between literary critics and the common reader. Sankovitch wrote a letter which was published in the magazine.

I stated that as a common reader myself, I didn’t care much about what the literary critics were up to.  Neither they nor their critiques had anything to do with the books I loved to read.  When and if I did talk about books, it was not to discuss trends in narrative style or the latest critiques of text.  Instead, “it’s gossipy chatter akin to ‘what’s happening with the neighbors?’ We love our books and we love the very real people who populate them.”

Go, Nina!


1. Although I would no more join something called the 1938 Club (I’m more of a sixties person) than I would go to a croning event on my birthday, I very much enjoyed Karen’s six posts at her blog Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings on books published in 1938.  She was one of the facilitators of the event last week, and they were very lucky indeed to have such an enthusiastic, hard-working reviewer/leader.   Her post on George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia has inspired me to get out my Orwell.   (And I’m sure Karen forgives me for not participating, since she knows I don’t do challenges.)

An illustration of Jane Eyre and Rochester by Fritze Eichenberg.

An illustration of Jane Eyre and Rochester by Fritze Eichenberg.

2. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday, and The Guardian has published an article in which Sarah Waters, Tessa Hadley, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Andrew Motion, Maggie O’Farrell, Polly Samson, Helen Dunmore, Blake Morrison, Julie Myerson, Cornelia Parker, John Mullan, Helen Simpson, Polly Teale, Samantha Ellis, Mick Jackson, Joanna Briscoe, Linda Grant, Sarah Perry write about their reactions to Jane Eyre.

Tessa Hadley writes, “Jane Eyre is so built into the shape of my imagination that I can hardly think about it critically; I’m always in among its trees – the sturdy, northern, low-growing hawthorn and hazel bushes of its terrain – and can’t dispassionately estimate the size of the wood.”

3 I just found Zoe Brooks’ wonderful blog,  Magic Realism.  She writes, “Every week I bring you at least one review of a magic realism book.”

4.  If you’re a fan of historical novels, check out this article about the best historical novels of the year at The Telegraph.