Benjamin Johncock

novelist, writer

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The Bookish Half Dozen {Francesca Main}

Francesca Main is Senior Commissioning Editor for Simon and Schuster, where she edits authors such as Edward Hogan, Urban Waite and the Orange Prize for Fiction shortlisted Monique Roffey.  She’s previously worked at Hamish Hamilton and Penguin.  Here’s her Bookish Half Dozen:

Favourite books?
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Cathedral by Raymond Carver; On Beauty by Zadie Smith; Zeitoun by Dave Eggers; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates; On Writing by Stephen King; A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood; Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; Birds of America by Lorrie Moore.  And High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, not least for encapsulating so perfectly how enjoyable and maddening and impossible it can be to make lists like this one.  I’m already getting all angsty about the books I’ve forgotten to include. 

Favourite authors?
My absolute favourite authors are those who take so long between novels that it’s easy to keep up with them.  It’s almost as much to do with their slow output as their brilliance that I can truthfully say I’ve read and loved everything Donna Tartt and Jeffrey Eugenides have ever written.  The Secret History and Middlesex are two notable omissions from the list above.

Books that you wish you’d published?
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama.  What a beautiful, moving, inspiring book (and, handily, a bestseller).  Much as I love having authors who enjoy talking through their editorial notes in the pub, it might be fun – just once – to fax marked-up pages through to the White House.

Books that you just don’t get?
I shouldn’t say Fantasy here, because it’s awful when people dismiss a whole genre without reading a word of it.  But with no disrespect intended to orcs and trolls and warlocks, I’d just rather read about people.  (Now bracing myself for the tide of emails along the lines of ‘actually, I think you’ll find that warlocks are people… why do you only read books about identity or American families?’).

Guilty pleasure book?
Given how impossible it would be to read all the books I want to read even if I never had to do anything else, my guilty pleasure is re-reading.  This is why I’ve read The Great Gatsby eight or nine times but never opened my copy of Tender is the Night.  On the last day of term at my middle school, the librarian gave us each a printout of all the books we’d borrowed that year, on that old green bar computer paper where all the sheets are joined together.  Most kids had a page or two; mine trailed across the floor even when I was standing on a chair, but it was just a list of five Judy Blume titles on endless rotation. 

The book that changed your life?
Matilda by Roald Dahl turned me into the list-making, library-going little nerd described above, though given that she’d read Nicholas Nickleby, The Invisible Man, The Sound and the Fury and The Grapes of Wrath by the age of four, Matilda had considerably more elevated tastes than I did.  I remain forever grateful to my dad for giving me my copy of The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and not, like Mr Wormwood, ripping it up.


Recommended reading: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

You can find Francesca on Twitter here.

Previously on The Bookish Half Dozen:

Robert McCrum  
Nick Harkaway  
Alex Bowler  
Scott Pack  
Nikesh Shukla  
Clare Hey  
Sam Copeland  
Sarah Franklin  
Patrick Janson-Smith
Harvey Marcus
Diana Athill
Jenn Ashworth
Evie Wyld
Ian Ellard
Gavin James Bower
Charlotte Knight
Stuart Evers
Henry Jeffreys
Niven Govinden

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