When I was about twelve I decided there was nothing to it but I had to learn Russian. (I often took on grand ideas during my summer holidays.)
Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gorky. If these wonderful writers could be transliterated so beautifully into English, imagine how wonderful they must be in their own language.
I still haven’t done it. Learned to read Russian. Though I still think I should. What I’m doing now, right this moment, is leafing through Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. Next, I plan to move on to Anna Karenina. I’ve had it laying by my bedside for some months now. I’ve only read it once. I was still in high school and imagine a lot of the subtext was well over my head.
My sister insists I get to it already. “Go read Anna,” she says, “so that we can have a proper discussion.” She really does heart the socks off old Leo and rereads what she sees as his great masterpiece whenever she has time to do it.
Me, I fancy Chekhov. (I’ve told you this before.) There’s a fair number of books out on how to imitate the man, including “How to Write Like Chekhov” which is quite good. But if you really want to learn from the master, read his correspondence.
Below, Chekhov, in a letter to D.V. Grigorovith, critiques a story called “Karelins Dream”.