Jodi Paloni grew up in rural Pennsylvania, lived in Vermont for 25 years, and recently settled on the coast of Maine. She is the debut author of They Could Live With Themselves, a collection of linked stories set in the fictional town of Stark Run, a runner up in the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, and recently published by Press 53 (read an excerpt here). She won the Short Story America Award and was a finalist in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. Learn more on her website.
Stacks of books and bookshelves are the prominent feature of our home décor, but I do try to keep the pile on my nightstand short and varied. I’m not sure what I’ll be up for when I climb into bed or when I wake up in the middle of the night––a quick story, an essay, a poem, research material (rarely), immersion into a thick juicy novel (often). What mood will I be in? What balm is required? I have a habit of straightening the pile in the morning. Here’s my current hoard, organized from top to bottom by size as they appear on my stand at the time of this writing.
Island by the late Alistair MacLeod (Vintage, 2000): Sixteen atmospheric stories set against the remote landscape of Cape Breton Island span decades and interpret place and community as one and the same. I read and re-read. How does MacLeod’s straightforward telling (beautiful prose) of the everyday transcend ordinary life? Cape Breton is on my travel list. Island keeps the dream alive.
Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Vintage, 2014): Last summer, while floating in the harbor on our little sailboat, I started reading this novel told in fragments, the retracing of a marriage, a look at how-did-we-get-to-be-where-we-are-now. Then I lost track of the book. I recently pulled it out of the sandy summer bag I found smashed under a bag of hats and scarves in the hall closet. Offill employ’s language that is unique––lyrical, while concise, with the feel of stream of consciousness, though biting and honest. I can’t wait to start over and keep going this time.
Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, 1995): The title attracted me to this book. Read: art objects (noun) and art objects (verb). Notice the alliteration essays, ecstasy, effrontery. I love to think about words and meaning, art and the self, the physicality of and the political manifestations inherent in expression. Winterston’s Lighthousekeeping is one of my all-time favorite novels. But it’s her authority on passion, the boldness that exudes from her fleet of books that astonishes me more than any one body of work. Some nights I require a challenge. On those nights, I pick up Art Objects.
Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 7, 2016): I’m honored to have been gifted an ARC of Marrow Island by the author. Her previous work, Glaciers (Tin House, 2012) swept me off my feet back then and I’ve been waiting for Alexis’s second novel ever since. After reading the first 40 pages, I’m all in. More island reading here! I confess to choosing books about the places I love, which involve rich green and rocky landscapes, briny air, and frigid seas.
As well, I keep Runaway by Alice Munro (Knopf 2004) and a copy of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2008) close by. I write short fiction. The works of these two women writers teach me. When I read well-loved shorts, they give me an experience of having entered another time and place while grounding me in my own understanding of them. I relax and empty. Similarly to a child requesting Good Night Moon, night after night, afterwards, I can sleep.
Finally, while I no longer subscribe to literary journals (there are just too many I want to read and support), I keep my eye out and do buy single issues from among my favorites when something in particular stands out. Currently, I’m taken with the topic of faith, all configurations, as set forth in Tin House 67––Joy Williams’ fiction, Anne Carson’s poetry, essays by Mira Ptacin, Aimee Bender, and Marilynne Robinson, and more. I pick this one up when I want to fill rather than empty.