Dani Shapiro‘s most recent books include the bestselling memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and the novels Black & White and Family History. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Ploughshares, Zyzzyva, and have been broadcast on NPR. She has taught in the creative writing programs at Columbia, NYU, The New School, and Brooklyn College. You can follow Dani’s posts on her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Her newest book, Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, will be published October 1.
The books I’m either reading, or want to be reading, or should be reading, exist in a constant state of migration between the bookcase in my office, my office floor, and the chaise longue in my office. Sometimes I give up, and slink down the stairs to my library, and shelve the book, realizing that I’m not going to get to it. Not now. Perhaps not ever. But when a book makes it to my nightstand, it doesn’t leave my nightstand until I have read it. Therefore, I have a teetering pile on my nightstand. If that pile fell over in the middle of the night, it would wake up the whole household.
A few of these books are mainstays. I’ve read them more than once. I dip in and out of them. The first of these is Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart, a wise and beautifully-written guide to a contemplative life. I’ve gotten to know Jack a little bit over the past few years, and I can hear his voice as I read him.
The same goes for Sylvia Boorstein, another great Buddhist thinker and writer, and a very dear friend, whose books spoke to me long before I knew her. Happiness is an Inside Job remains on my nightstand, as a way of keeping her close.
The writer and neuroscientist David Eagleman’s brilliant little book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, manages to be both poetry and philosophy, at once magical and grounded. These brief tales also have the benefit of being very short. A perfect bit of reading before bed. I try to fall asleep with good sentences in my ears. In this category I would also put Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, which is hands-down my favorite book on writing, and one that I have kept near me at all times while working on my own book on writing. It’s not a craft book, not instructive in any practical way, but contains such wisdom and thoughtfulness about what it takes to live the life of a writer.
Until recently, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings had a place on my nightstand, but I tore through it in just a couple of weeks—such was her mastery of character and story and the movement of time—and since I finished it, now the big fat novel on my nightstand is & Sons by David Gilbert, which I’m very much enjoying.
And I always have a few recent issues of One Story, the literary magazine that contains one single gem of a story in each issue. They’ve just excerpted a piece of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things. That’s what’s next.