Can it really be -- something new from Tolstoy? Perhaps a forgotten, 1,200-page canvass of history found propping up a broken bedstead at the great man's dacha? Is the mystic count of Russian literature about to have a go -- à la Louisa May Alcott -- at the late-20th century bestseller lists, thanks to a misplaced manuscript? Not quite. Tolstoy's "new" book, "A Calendar of Wisdom," has gone though the printing presses in Cyrillic several times, but has now been translated into English by Peter Sekirin.
"A Calendar of Wisdom" is a collection of quotations culled from world literature and grouped thematically for each day of the year. It is, in Tolstoy's words, "an accumulation of the cultural heritage of our ancestors, the best thinkers in the world."
This book is, by design, popular reading from a great master; it was made, in his words, "to present for a wide reading audience an easily accessible, everyday circle of reading which will arouse their best thoughts and feelings." And, as a book of daily inspiration, it is probably the best of the lot. Whose life wouldn't be bettered by a daily nibble of Shakespeare, Lao Tsu, Ruskin, the Talmud, the Dhammapada, Socrates, Jefferson and a host of small and tall 18th and 19th century thinkers?
Tolstoy's sentiments are truly affecting, simple but not easy prescriptions for daily living. But keep in mind that it was not enough for the count himself, who died -- barely two years after the publication of the last edition of the calendar -- at a lonely train station as he attempted to flee the bonds of his gentrified life.
In these readings life serves up some measures of grief as well as comfort food. It is in fact, Tolstoy's vision. I think of this calendar as Tolstoy's spiritual Rolodex; a kind of truth one can live and prosper with.