“Diane Johnson Wishes More Authors Would Write About Friendship”

From a New York Times By the Book interview headlined “Diane Johnson Wishes More Authors Would Write About Friendship”:

“That’s a neglected, important part of life,” says the novelist, whose new book is “Lorna Mott Comes Home.”

What books are on your night stand?

Brian Dillon’s “Suppose a Sentence,” very amusing about sentences; a saucy French novel, “Partita” — for me, lots of new vocabulary; a novel, “The Margot Affair,” which the author, Sanaë Lemoine, just brought me; “Field Marshal,” a biography of Erwin Rommel by Daniel Allen Butler; “The Wreck of the Abergavenny: The Wordsworths and Catastrophe,” by Alethea Hayter; “A Safer World…?,” by my upstairs neighbor Luc Debieuvre.

What’s the last great book you read?

“The Leopard,” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

“The Count of Monte Cristo.” Although maybe reading it for the first time at any age would still produce the riveting suspense of a great story. One you would stay up all night, to read under the covers with a flashlight if your mother made you turn out the light.

What book should nobody read until the age of 40?

“Pride and Prejudice,” or “Emma.” Or, rather, read them in your teens for the stories, for one experience, and then later to appreciate Austen’s genius, rewarding both times.

Do you count any books as guilty pleasures, or comfort reads?

Lucas Davenport mysteries by John Sandford, especially when they have Virgil Flowers in them.

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?

Molly Keane’s “Good Behaviour.” Or Elif Batuman’s “The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.”

The last book you read that made you cry?

I’m a hardhearted professional writer — I’m always more interested in how it’s done. It was probably “Anna Karenina” when I was 16.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

My friend Bob Gottlieb has always said that more people should write about friendship, and it’s true that that’s a neglected, important part of life.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

Skill — a great, amazing style, or graceful erudition. I think of W. G. Sebald, or certain passages in L. P. Hartley and E. M. Forster and V. S. Pritchett that I copied out. I’m very susceptible to the Edwardians.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Voracious, like most kids who grow up to be writers. My childhood loves were Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini, after I outgrew Nancy Drew, Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh. I didn’t really outgrow them, of course. I also had a book of poems called “Silver Pennies,” and of course, “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” Some childhood favorites are now forbidden for political incorrectness — for instance, about the brave little boy who saved his family from being eaten by tigers, and another about some children who lived in the South before the Civil War.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

“The Goldfinch.”

What do you plan to read next?

Cynthia Saltzman’s “Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast,” about Napoleon’s stealing a painting, “The Wedding Feast at Cana.”

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