“There are a handful of books I like to keep within arm’s reach.”

Today we’re continuing our Other People’s Bookshelves series. View the previous posts here. For a reminder on how this series got started, head here

Today we’re snooping the shelves of author Shawn Smucker. Shawn is the author of two books I enjoyed and recommend: Building a Life Out of Words (for you writerly types) and How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp (for you adventurous types, or those who wish to be).

Shawn is also the author of the forthcoming book The Day The Angels Fell. I was proud to support this book’s kickstarter campaign (which hit its goal in two days and is now shooting for stretch goals), and can’t wait to get my hands on the finished project.

As a friend and fellow writer, I’m thrilled to sneak a peek at Shawn’s shelves today.

1. Tell us a little bit about your shelves.

The book shelves in my office form a sort of cocoon—it’s my hope that if I surround myself with enough inspiring work, I might someday write something lasting as well. I’m surrounded by words. My office is small—maybe 6′ by 8’—and I have a lot of books, so I’ve been forced to use every piece of furniture as a bookshelf: the table where I work, the filing cabinet, and even the floor space in between shelves. It’s pretty cluttered, but I like it that way.

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2. How are your books organized?

They’re not. I mean, my Everyman’s Library books are together, and books by the same author are generally placed in the same space. They’re mostly organized by size based on what will fit on the shelf. Sometimes books of a similar topic will end up grouped together.

For the most part though, it’s random; I placed them on the shelves as I unpacked them when we moved here in May, and that seems as good a way of organizing them as any.

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3. Do you have a favorite shelf?

I don’t really have a favorite shelf—many of my favorite books are scattered through the shelves—but there are a handful of books I like to keep within arm’s reach, and those are all on the table right in front of me. Books like Crossing to Safety, New Seeds of Contemplation, A Prayer For Owen Meany, The Brothers K, everything I own by Jose Saramago and Henri Nouwen, the journals of John Steinbeck as he wrote East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath, The Writing Life, and Bird By Bird.


4. Any special titles you’d like to point out to us?

There’s only one book that I’m really proud to own in its specific edition and that’s my 1864 copy of Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s a beautiful book I found in a bookstore in Brighton, England when we lived there about ten years ago, and it’s 150 years old this year if my math is right. Inside is a handwritten inscription that says, “Presented to Miss Ada Atty, by the Misses Sharrocks for improvement in Music. Midsummer 1865.” How cool is that?


I do have a shelf of the books I’ve written, mostly co-written memoirs, some traditionally published and others self-published. They’re leaning up against an old, broken-down typewriter, because that’s what I feel like most of the time. Co-writing and ghost-writing books is what I do for a living, and it’s fun to see that shelf grow.

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Please join me in thanking Shawn for sharing his bookshelves with us. Read more about him on his blog, and find out more about his kickstarter campaign here. (I especially love the nod to Madeleine L’Engle.)

Share your thoughts about Shawn’s work, broken-down typewriters, and keeping your favorites within an arm’s reach in comments. 

Read the rest of the posts in the Other People’s Bookshelves series here.

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  1. Virginia says:

    I love that old typewriter!! I like the idea of having some books within arms reach. I have two bookshelves downstairs in my living room that hold my favorites and are easily accessible.

    • Virginia, because I have this handful of books that I’m always looking back into, they’ve been on my mind lately and I’m considering re-reading my favorite ten books next year. Any of you folks out there re-readers? Or is it once and done for you?

      • Virginia says:

        Yes! I definitely re-read favorites. Sometimes I wait a few years, sometimes I just can’t and re-read them in less than a year. Now my husband is not a re-reader at all. I am pretty sure the only book he’s ever read more than once voluntarily is Count of Monte Cristo, his favorite book. I like the idea about re-reading your top 10 favorites!

      • Dawn says:

        I am not usually a re-reader, but I devoted this summer to re-reading and had a blast with it. Looking back at my reading journal, I did read some new-to-me stories also, but the re-reads were a highlight for sure. Thanks for sharing your bookshelves with us.

      • Jeannie says:

        I’m definitely a re-reader: I have read my #1 book, Little Women, probably 20 times in my life, and other faves (Rebecca, The House of Mirth, Remains of the Day, all Jane Austen) around 5 times. So I know just what you mean about having re-read-worthy books close at hand, and about knowing a few books really well. I enjoyed looking at your bookshelves!

    • Thanks, Leigh. We had a few favorite bookstores when we lived over there, and one of them in Windsor had an antique book section where all those books were behind glass and cost a fortune. Pretty cool place.

  2. liz n. says:

    Is that a copy of “Watership Down” I see in the top right corner? I see a LOT of books that are in my own library…and books worn from being read over and over. I like that.

    • Yes, Liz, that is Watership Down. My wife and I read that out loud during our first year of marriage. I used to be a big re-reader but haven’t done it so much in recent years. Then a friend of mine talked about how spread thin we are, and he wondered if it would be better to know ten books really, really well than to read a hundred books. I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s an intriguing question.

      • liz n. says:

        There are books I re-read every year: Watership Down, The Hobbit and LOTR, A Tale of Two Cities, American Gods, The Golden Age, Jane Eyre, King Lear (okay, a play, but still…), and The Handmaid’s Tale. They are seared into my brain to the point that I can quote them almost verbatim from the first word to the last…but I still read them because they are the ones that struck me most deeply, and reading the actual words is like rediscovering an old friend. I think we can be voracious readers of many books (there are too many to just pass them by) while still knowing a few perhaps even better than we know our own selves.

      • MelissaJoy says:

        Shawn, thanks for the look-see into your reading world. I like the challenge of knowing ten books really well as opposed to reading one hundred. That is one to ponder. Do you have a list of ten?

  3. Laura says:

    I really enjoyed Building a Life Out of Words. I’ll have to check out your others! In terms of rereading, I love going back and rereading the first chapter of a book ( at Least the first page) and making new connections. Did you notice that The Brothers K ended and began in a similar way? Thanks for the glimpse of your books!

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