Translation 2 min read

Announcing the Circle of Reading

I’m publishing my new translation of Leo Tolstoy’s last major work, The Circle of Reading, as a daily newsletter.
Photograph of Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana (detail), 1908.

On March 15th, 1884, Leo Tolstoy wrote in his diary: “I need to put together a circle of reading for myself: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Pascal, the Gospels. This is something that others would also find useful.”

The following year, still contemplating this idea, Tolstoy writes in a letter to Chertkov: “I have experienced the kind of strength, tranquility and happiness this can provide—to communicate with such spirits as Socrates, Epictetus, Arnold, Parker… I really want to put together a circle of reading, i.e. a series of books and selections from them which all speak about the only thing that a human being needs above all else, the purpose of his life, his wellbeing.”

It would take over a decade for Tolstoy to finally begin working on this idea. In 1903, suffering from a severe illness, Tolstoy began to work on a book titled “The Thoughts of Wise Men for Every Day.”

The following year, Tolstoy expanded this book and arranged his selections by a particular theme for every day of the year, e.g. God, Reason, Law, Love, Faith, Falsehood, Immortality, Kindness, Freedom, and so on. Each day begins and ends with Tolstoy’s own summary of the key idea. He titled this expanded version “The Circle of Reading.” This would be Tolstoy’s last and most cherished work, which, in his words, made his soul feel great. It is a work that attempts to answer the most important questions of our lives.

Almost a century after its publication, Tolstoy’s book was translated by Peter Sekirin under the title A Calendar of Wisdom. Likely due to the constraint of trying to fit each day onto a single page, the translation was abridged, at times considerably. Another translation by Roger Cockrell, published, somewhat confusingly, under the same title (A Calendar of Wisdom), is also abridged, likely for the same reason.

Over the last couple of months I’ve began working on my own translation of the book, which I am publishing under the original title: The Circle of Reading (Russian: “Круг чтения”). Instead of being constrained by physical media, I am going to publish the translation in what seems to be the ideal format: a daily newsletter. My plan for this translation is to include the whole set of Tolstoy’s selected thoughts and meditations.

Each day focuses on a topic, e.g. Wealth, Habits, Falsehood, etc., with Tolstoy providing a brief thought at the beginning and end. The main content is typically a number of quotes (sometimes rewritten by Tolstoy) taken from the whole gamut of historical and cultural sources, mixed with Tolstoy’s own meditations. Each day is about a 2 minute read. Here’s a sample issue for the 5th of November (on the importance of stopping bad thoughts before they turn to action).

Interested? Head over to circleofreading.com to sign up.