I read lots of books but slowly. The way I rationalise it, the writer put a huge amount of himself into his choice and arrangement of words, so I should pay them some attention.

For this reason I rarely read translations, where the message must of course be blurred by the media. The messenger (author) isn't talking; it's someone else - the media (translator) - telling me what he thinks the author means. Therefore it's the translator's opinion, and in that I am far less interested.

Secondly, in all language, written or spoken or, of course, sung, there is a 'voice' - an often indefinable but highly recognisable factor unique to the writer or the speaker. If the voice you hear is that of the translator or the singer of a song which he has not written it is not that of the writer, and in this age of mediocre uniformity it's the writer's voice that I want to hear. In song it's the difference between John Lennon and Mick Jagger, for the words you listen to belong to the writer, not to the singer, and Lennon is the writer. The words and the music, not just the voice, are his. (Entertainment is another short story; tremendous in its own right but very much the froth on the pint of ale.)

So why am I presently reading Anton Chekhov's 'About Love and Other Stories', even though I have no Russian? Because Raymond Carver said, without equivocation; 'Chekhov is the greatest short story writer who has ever lived.' Funny that, because I'd thought he, Carver, was. He or Ernest Hemingway. I still think so.

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