The Shelf of Five

Writing Spaces

I recently read one of Joe Hill’s (author of Horns and Heart-Shaped Box) blog posts about his writing space. In this post he described his office in great detail (pictures included). Side note: I noticed three wireless Mac keyboards on his desk … three! I have no need for a wireless keyboard at this time, but man, there’s something about having three Mac keyboards on your desk that gives you power. It’s like a container full of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. Joe also shared some of the books he keeps on the various shelves around the room. 

Two thoughts left with me when I finished reading his post: one-I need my own writing space; two-I need a Shelf of Ten. 

He shared that he writes at a desk that he’s had for about 16 years. Wow! That’s commitment. I float around my apartment from my desk (which isn’t even my desk), to the balcony, to my kitchen table, to the chair by the window (which my dog fights me for even though we both don’t fit there simultaneously), to my bed, to the floor in my closet, and then to Starbucks down the street. Why do I float? I am constantly trying to get away from my loud neighbors who fight with the characters talking in my head. 

My ideal writing space would be a clean, cavernous basement. The walls would be lined with bookshelves and photos of wolves. My desk would be large enough for me to comfortably spread out. The space directly in front of my laptop/monitor would be white and blank. I wouldn’t mind a few eyebrow windows on the opposite wall from where I’m writing to let in a little natural light. A large couch is a must. 

The Shelf of Five

Joe also has a Shelf of Ten. This holds the next ten books he’s going to read all lined up in the order in which he’s going to read them. Something clicked when I read that. Duh! That makes total sense. 

I love books (see my previous post), and I have them everywhere in my apartment. At one time they were divided by books I’ve read and books to read. Then like books returned to like books. Certain authors just merged together like finding lost friends. And I lost my mind trying figure out where I left off in my reading pile. 

I love the idea of having books all lined up for when I’m ready to start the journey. But ten? I don’t know if I can commit to ten books at once. I can commit to five. I’m a mood/situational reader. Sometimes I find a book and love the blurb on the back. When I get home and start to read it, the books fails to deliver, and I question why I even bought the book in the first place. It then gets tossed to the shelf. A year or two later I’ll pick the book up again, only this time I fall in love with it and wonder where it had been all my life. I suppose if the next book on my Shelf of Five just isn’t jiving with me, I can always toss it back to the pile and move on to the next book. 

What if one of my Five is on my Kindle Fire, though? Should I line my Kindle Fire up along with the other titles? Sometimes I use my Fire for other things which means that it wouldn’t be in order and I’d have to keep track of what comes next (back to square one?). I suppose I could use my other Kindle, or some other place holder, to hold the spot . 

So, after much deliberation, here is my first set of Shelf of Five books (in order … I think):

1. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (I think a Shelf of Five needs at least one non-fiction title, and I’ve been dying to read this book)

2. The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (I borrowed this book through the Kindle Lending Library, and I just want to finish the trilogy)

3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (every sci-fi writer needs some good sci-fi in their reading pile)

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (this title was recommended by many people at a sci-fi symposium at GA Tech)

5. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (another title recommended at the sci-fi symposium)

Photo (5)
(The Fire is on top only so you can read the title. I’ve since moved it back in line.)

So, that’s my Shelf of Five. The good thing about this selection is that I’m super excited to read all of these books, so I really think I set myself up for success. I know I can commit to these five titles. 

But what will come after these? Hmm …

What titles would be on your Shelf of Five (or Ten, if you’re feeling brave)? 

Leveling the Playing Field

True Love

There isn’t much that I love more than stopping in my tracks when I notice a new book from a favorite author. When we touch, sparks fly. I flap the pages in the book, letting the gentle wind brush my face as I inhale the new book scent.

I love books.

I love beautiful covers that capture my interest. I love reading the endorsements from other authors or publications saying, “Read this book!” Of course they pull me in. And of course, I do read the book.


I recently stopped to think about this love that I have of books. I finished two books on my Kindle in the recent past: one by a well established author and one by a lesser known author. I read the description of the books on Amazon, clicked “Buy Now”, and then dove right into the story when it arrived on my screen. 

I didn’t turn the e-ink screen pages back so I could see the colorful cover art (it wouldn’t be there anyway). I didn’t read any of the endorsements or praise for the book. Nor did I read the forward by the author. 

It wasn’t until after I finished these books that I realized the journey I shared with them and how it differed from other books I’ve enjoyed over the years. I was in it for the story. 

Story and Leveling the Playing Field

It’s always about the story. Or, it should be. It shouldn’t matter how fancy, colorful, or highly praised a book is on its cover. What matters is the story that lies on the printed page. That’s what holds the reader’s attention and that’s what keeps the reader turning page after page. 

I think e-readers have seriously leveled the playing field. When most of us download a new ebook, it opens directly to page one, where the story begins. Most of us don’t flip to the cover because we know it doesn’t really matter–it’s just gonna be a black and white screen. Boring. Instead, we go right for the story. That’s why we bought the book in the first place. 

Everyone and their dog seems to be publishing books these days. They make it look so easy. Within seconds I can have a book from Stephen King or Shirley Jackson on my Kindle as well as a book from my neighbor. But once that book arrives, they pretty much all look the same (except for a few with serious formatting issues). It’s that sameness that levels the playing field. 

When I’m reading a DTB book and I notice I’m getting a little lost, it only takes me a second to flip back to the cover and remind myself of what drew me to the book in the first place. I can’t do that with a book on my Kindle because it’s not worth the effort for a black and white image. When I get bored reading a DTB, I can flip to the blurb on the back and remind myself that other people liked this book so I should, too. Can’t do that with my Kindle.

Bottom line, it’s the story that keeps people going. E-readers have upped the ante. Stories have to be even better than what’s been acceptable in the past if writers want people to continue to read their work. With so many choices, and such cheap prices, if writers don’t grab readers right away they will move on to the next book in line on their e-reader. 


My Kindle Fire arrived not too long ago and is my new best friend. The Fire has added the color element in a nice way. It’s also faster for me to travel throughout my book. But, my bottom line hasn’t changed. The story is what keeps me swiping my finger across the screen to turn the page. 

Story. Period.