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WestportCURATES November 2017: Nina Sankovitch

Where Westporters and locals select their favorite books across a wide range of subjects and interests. Please scroll down for selections.


Nina Sankovitch 

"The best books are transformative experiences. By reading a great book, we are changed forever: changed in how we think about something or someplace; changed in how we address joy and sorrow in our own lives; changed in how we find purpose in our lives; changed in how we appreciate the diversity of experience that the world offers.  Nine years ago I began a project of reading a book a day for one year. My purpose was to find a way to live with the unbearable sorrow of losing my oldest sister to cancer. During the experience of reading 365 books, I was transformed. I came out of the darkness of loss into a place of warmth and light and understanding. I will never be the person I was before I lost my sister but because of the year I spent reading, I am a better person than I was. More compassionate, more patient, more resilient. In this list of 100 books, I want to share the books that I have found to be most transformative for me during my lifetime of reading.  These books changed me for the better, made me appreciate all the beauty in the world; have patience for the hard times that come up in every life (every day!); and resolve for facing down the worst qualities in humankind, and for celebrating the best." Nina Sankovitch


With my husband and four boys, I have lived in Westport since 2001.  My career path has veered all over, from corporate law to working on ocean and coastal pollution for the Natural Resources Defense Council; from working as a grants administrator for a non-profit to serving as President and Executive Director of Save the Sound, here in Connecticut. Currently,  I write books, freelance for the New York Times and Huffington Post (among other publications), serve as a judge for the Book of the Month Club, and read read read.

My book Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, about the joys and therapeutic benefits of reading, was published in 2011. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was hailed as “an outstanding debut” by Kirkus Reviews and designated a “book to read now” by Oprah.  My second book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, came out in 2014; Oprah called it a book “every joy-seeking woman needs to read.”

My third book, titled The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, came out in  April 2017 from St. Martin's Press. The book is a multi-generational biography covering three hundred years of the fascinating Lowells. Roger Lowenstein of The Wall Street Journal called it a  “stirring saga…Vivid and intimate … Sankovitch has made a compelling contribution to Massachusetts and American History.”  Charlotte Gordon of The Washington Post wrote: “Meet American’s Most Extraordinary Family: the Lowells…Sankovitch has [written] the powerful story of one of America’s most extraordinary families, a family that helped shape the course of American history in dramatic and decisive ways…By the final pages of this volume, one feels deeply attached to the individual Lowells, while also exhilarated at having experienced this grand sweep of American history.”  Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post gave me the great compliment of comparing me favorably to James Michener, and The New Yorker observed that my “skillful blending of context and detail makes the vicissitudes of one family emblematic of a nation’s.”

I love to play tennis, kayak, and sit with my cat on my lap, reading.

Nina's 100 Selections

"A gorgeous, stirring novel that reads like a poem, telling the story of four girls in 1970s Brooklyn. Woodson’s crystalline prose brings to life the tragedies and triumphs of adolescence, as seen through the lens of one of the girls, now a grown woman."

"Taking a walk across New York City, 85-year old Lillian Boxfish has more than a few adventures and discovers she’s still as full of potential – and surprises - as the city she loves so much. Rooney imparts such wisdom through the eyes of her narrator, and brings the reader to a place of joy."

"At the heart of this luminous novel is the question of faith—religious faith, faith in community, but most importantly, faith in self. A wonder of a book, beautifully written and with a heart-pumping, fist-pumping ending."

"Set in Israel in 2002, this stirring novel about war, identity, family, motherhood, friendship, faith (both secular and religious), passion, and love is a must-read. As Colm Toibin said in his stirring review of the book, “This is one of those few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world.”  

"An amazing cipher of a woman (she hides her intelligence and wit behind doltish servitude), a startling young girl (she announces her plan to kill herself early in the book), and an erudite and elegant foreigner become friends, in a serendipitous but wholly realistic way. Together the three friends find new meaning in their worlds, and more than enough reasons to stay alive. This was the first book I read in my year of reading a book a day, and no book could have been better at assuring me that I was going to have a great year."  

"Put simply, this marvelous novel offers the proof that books can literally save a life. The how and the why of it are beautifully presented. Be prepared to cry."

"The story of a man, his daughter, and his granddaughter, all facing their own heartbreaks, quietly but surely takes on all the big themes  — joy, connection, peace, and responsibility – and creates a novel that is utterly fresh and beautiful.  Life is hard, but worth it."

"Such a searing novel about 21st century dysfunction – the predatory banking industry, over-development and the depletion of natural resources, greed overtaking common sense - would be a depressing book  - but Haslett makes it beautiful through his soaring language, authentic characters, and fast plot. At times, Haslett is even very very funny. A brilliant writer, and an unforgettable book."

"Breathtaking and mesmerizing, transfixing and transporting, this lovely book made me believe, all over again, in the cathartic magic of reading. Based on the real-life relationship between playwright John Millington Synge and actress Maire O’Neill (also known as Molly Allgood), the book is told mostly from the aging Molly’s viewpoint but also offers the poetically probing surveillance of an unnamed observer."

"A stunner of historical fiction set in 1785 Paris, when an ambitious provincial engineer is commissioned to clear out the oldest cemetery in Paris, disposing of the bones, destroying the church attached to it, and filling in the holes left behind.  Paris boils and roils around him, revolution is in the air, history is being tossed aside and the future beckons – but will the young man survive to see all the possibilities of the coming new world?"

"A riveting novel about a woman from a small town in Oklahoma who wants to take responsibility for her life, setting off a cascade of reactions within her community, and running in parallel to the story of a company of soldiers in Iraq struggling to make sense of their mission. Rogan is a master at story-telling, drawing us in with her light but exacting touch in drawing characters, setting atmosphere, and drawing out a plot that comes together in an ending that is potentially heartbreaking but also offers more than a glimmer of hope and redemption."

"A tremendous book depicting race relations in South Africa in the 1940s. Apartheid was not yet the official policy of South Africa and in fact there was some movement towards more liberal and humane practices of housing, education, and providing opportunities for the black communities across South Africa. But when a young black man mistakenly kills a white friend, the fallout offers a terrible foreboding of South Africa’s future."

"A crazy but perfectly rendered group of characters are trying to figure out how to live in the world. Two of them happen to be related to Henry James and William James, and both draw on their prestigious ancestors in approaching – or fleeing from – modern life.  This book is a real original, unforgettable, hilarious, and very, very moving."

"I read this book on the last day of my read-a-book-a-day year, and it was a perfect finale to a great year. This is a novel that dares to make big statements about life but hides them within a wonderfully looping plot alternating between tragedy and comedy (I laughed out loud on a train, in public, repeatedly).  A moving homage to under-paid school teachers; a devotional to dogs and the people who love them (a condemnation of people who desert them); a guidebook on writing (with lots of attention paid to how to tell a story, the part we all play in a story, and the importance of caring about your story) – and most of all, a great read for anytime, any place."

"Set in Holland during the last months of World War II, the book begins with the murder of a collaborator and the Nazis’ cruel revenge on a neighborhood. As the book unfolds, carefully and addictively (you cannot put this book down) we learn how many people were affected by the horror of the murder and its even more murderous consequences: the rippling effects spread out across generations and classes and continents.  A quiet but searing indictment of war, and a beautiful plea for communities rising up for peace."

"A wonderful and profoundly moving personal memoir of loss and resilience, and an unforgettable tribute to the great good that comes from reading great books (and talking about them!). Giselon organizes an Existential Crisis Reading Group after two of her sisters die, her father becomes terminally ill while representing a man on Death Row in Angola Prison, and the city Giselon has lived in her entire life, New Orleans, recovers from Katrina."

"Fisher tells the story of the 1937 Davis Cup match (“the greatest match ever played”), intertwined with the backgrounds of Baron Gottfried Von Cramm, German tennis player forced to play for the Nazis but hated by and hating the regime; Don Budge, an all American from head to toe who hung out with Charlie Chaplin and other Hollywood types and just liked to play tennis and have a good time; and Bill Tilden, one of the mightiest racquet-wielders ever but also a gay man with a temper, persecuted by the American tennis regime for his sexuality. A riveting book for tennis lovers and for those who couldn’t care less about tennis but love history."

"An exquisite meditation on the restorative connection between nature and humans, this lovely memoir is a gem of a book. Bailey, isolated and immobile due to a debilitating illness, finds herself in the company of a woodland snail. The snail becomes both her mirror and her mentor, and leads to Bailey to make insightful, inspiring and unforgettable observations on identity, mobility, placement, and relationships"

"Not the best-written book but Shirley Jackson was a fascinating and complicated woman – and she lived with her family in Westport for a year and a half! Well worth reading, this biography will set you off in search of all of Jackson’s books."

You may find the items listed above on the WestportCURATES display on the main floor of the library next to the circulation desk. Please ask for assistance in locating items. If you're interested in becoming a Westport Library Guest Curator, please email the Manager of Content Curation Robert Kelly