Diane Johnson's 6 favorite books
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (St. Martin's, $16). The younger daughter of an eccentric, impoverished English family longs for a normal life. Why can't their father break his writer's block? What will they do when the money runs out? Smith makes it all delightfully real and engrossing.
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (Dover, $10). A chronicle of a rich Edwardian family obsessed with lineage and money, and, in the case of its successful scion, his wife — the only person he couldn't own. Galsworthy embedded a secret (or not-so-secret) message for young women about independence and the perfidy of men within absorbing details about a world that the First World War would soon change.
Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty (Mariner, $14). A Mississippi family congregates for a wedding. Nothing much happens, but the life described in this beautiful novel mirrors the one I remember from my Illinois childhood. It's the same river and the same pie recipes, the same America of a more idyllic time.
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Penguin, $16). In 1834, "after somewhat varied and troublous school days" at Harvard, the 19-year-old Dana set out for a voyage he hoped would cure a "weakness of the eyes" he had contracted through measles. Perhaps I hoped that such an adventure would cure my nearsightedness as well. His journey takes him to exotic shores I longed to visit.
When She Was Good by Philip Roth (Vintage, $15). The ultimate revenge novel, set in the Midwest in a place that could have been my hometown. It's a breakup story, featuring a woman who doesn't quite get to tell her side of it.
Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards (Honno, $17). This quiet, beautiful novel, set in an English village among quiet, ordinary people, was published in 1928 but could have reflected life in a small Midwestern town in 1876 or in the days of my own childhood. Here are the postmaster, local people, and local concerns, wonderfully described.
— Novelist and critic Diane Johnson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the author of 16 books, including the best-seller Le Divorce. Her new memoir, Flyover Lives, explores her family's roots in the Midwest, a region she left behind years ago.