On The Shelf – JASON JACKSON

Jason’s short story Nothing But Ashes was placed third in our first ever writing competition in 2019. You can read it on our website here, as well as in our print anthology. (A handful of copies still available exclusively from our site.)

His prize-winning fiction appears regularly in print and online. In 2021 his flash Apple-Fall won the Retreat West Flash Fiction competition, and his story What Comes Next was awarded second place in The Phare’s inaugural Writewords competition. Jason is also a photographer, and his prose/photography hybrid work The Unit is published by A3 Press.

Here is his selection of five ‘must-have’ books for our On The Shelf series.

The Stories of Raymond Carver by Raymond Carver

I have a 1985 edition of the Picador compilation of Carver’s collections Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral. They are stories I’ll never tire of. Carver’s work is often stereotyped as bleak and depressing, and it’s true that his stories feature characters whose live are filled with struggle. But there’s hope there, resilience, and beauty too. Stories like Chef’s House, Gazebo and Why Don’t You Dance? are full of pathos and yearning. These are real people, living real lives, failing at it but doing it anyway. I find them a constant source of inspiration.

Nine Stories by J.D Salinger

I first read these stories when I was nineteen. They were my introduction to short literary fiction. It’d be fifteen years or more before I’d seriously consider writing short stories myself, but really it started back then, with this collection. Even before I read the stories, I was captivated by their titles: For Esme — With Love and Squalor, Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, A Perfect Day for Bananafish. How couldn’t they be great? And of course, they are. Salinger’s ear for dialogue is unbelievable, and the endings are always pitch-perfect. I remember reading the first story in my dingy room in a shared house and realising that this was what short fiction could do. It felt like magic at the time, and every time I read them it still does.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

This brutal, nihilistic novel is almost unbearable. I first read it many years ago on a family holiday; it isn’t ideal holiday reading. The relentless, pitiless violence is never glorified or glamorised. It just exists, unavoidably, and we are asked to bear it, and bear witness. I have never felt as emotionally engaged in a narrative, as viscerally affected by writing, as bereft at the end of anything. I rarely reread novels, but I’ve returned to this one since that first reading, and I’ll continue to do so. It’s truly haunting.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (trans. By Jennifer Croft)

This is the least novel-like novel I’ve ever read. It feels completely disjointed, with various seemingly-disconnected narratives veering off in all directions. There are sections which read like a history book, other moments which are more like a psychology text book. Parts seem like autobiography, or travel writing, and there’s a wonderful section about a character who livies on a train which is one of the best short stories – if that’s indeed what it is – I’ve ever read. It’s endlessly inventive and full of the most beautiful, effective prose. It defies categorisation and demands to be reread from the moment you finish it. It challenges you, this novel. It’s never easy. But it’s absolutely worth the effort.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Seven short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, followed by Saunders’ critique of each. It’s a craft book; a book about how to write well. But it’s so much more than that. Saunders points out, in that friendly accessible, intelligent way he has, what is excellent about these stories, why they work, and more importantly how they work. The stories themselves are frustrating, challenging, beautiful and wonderous, but it’s the critiques which make the book. I only bought it a few weeks ago, and since I finished it, every time I read a short story I want to talk to George. For anyone who aspires to write short stories, this book is essential reading. I learnt more from it than all the other craft books I’ve read combined.

You can follow Jason Jackson on twitter @jj_fiction

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