Fun With Lists!

Friends of the blog know that sometimes I like to make lists. (See: Things to Avoid and Non-literary Characters.) I make lists in my real life too. Pros v. Cons lists, Things to Do lists, Amazon Wish Lists, and I only evaluate my “favorite” of anything in the form of a Top 5 List.

So, it should come as no surprise that I love Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, a site devoted to presenting you with the best books for pretty much any occasion or reason. I particularly enjoyed the recent “Most Challenged Books of 2009” list, in which three of my favorite books appear – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. (I should say that with books, I do not have a Top 5 List, but rather I break them up into multiple Top 5 lists based on genre, nostalgia, cultural relevance, etc. Yes, I have issues.)

Anyway, Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations has inspired me to create a new list, but unlike the professional list-makers, I won’t be focusing so much on “the best” as I will on “my favorites.” So, I present the Top 5 Books I Find Flashlight Worthy:


1) Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft. This is a huge book. Not one to travel with or take on the subway. But it is the perfect book to curl up with under a sheet in the dark and scare the pants off yourself! H.P. Lovecraft did literary horror first, and arguably the best (funny how that usually works out, isn’t it?).

2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Yes, it is one of my favorites, as I mentioned above, but I assure you I’m not being biased. This book still works for the purposes of this list. The creepy mystery behind Boo Radley is certainly flashlight worthy, but there are also the many layers behind the plot and characters to unravel in the dark.

3) In the Woods by Tana French. Like Mockingbird, this book has multiple layers of mystery going on. (See also: The Likeness). Not only does French offer a page-turning whodunit, but she also slowly reveals an eerie mystery within the main character.

4) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. OK, this one seems obvious, but with a combination of nostalgia and a self-explanatory title, I defy you to find me a more flashlight worthy book. If you haven’t read this since childhood, go revisit. Or, read it in a pillow fort with your own kids. I used to be convinced that the girl with the ribbon around her neck was one of my sister’s friends (because she said she was), so I can no longer think of this book without thinking of how much my childhood was traumatized by it.

5) Pretty much anything by Stephen King. Seriously. There’s a reason Joey Tribbiani keeps his copy of The Shining in the freezer.

What do you all think? As you can see, I went with mystery and horror when I think of flashlight worthy books, but I guess that doesn’t always have to be the case. What are some of your favorite books to read in the dark?

Inspiration & Motivation

To my fellow writers… 

Yes, I say “fellow” because I am in the process of reclaiming my roots in creative writing. I’ve been so busy thinking my MFA was useless and not worth the debt, that I haven’t thought about actually using it. While my go-to style is personal essay, I’ve been trying my hand at (gulp!) fiction. It’s pretty terrifying. Right now my idea is heavily based on a friendship I had in high school, and, as expected, the sections that come more naturally to me are scenes involving those two characters. I find I’m less motivated to write the straight-fiction parts, which will account for 75% of the novel. 

The easy solution is to make this a memoir, but then I’d be stuck with having to make it truthful, and frankly, this story would be very boring if I start and end it where it did in real life. I want to take it further and explore areas in that time period without having to worry about things like facts. The only problem is – I just can’t make myself sit down and write it.

I’m curious about what happens after the inspiration. It’s hard enough finding a muse and putting an idea down on paper. But, once you finally map out where you want to go, what makes you get in your car and drive there? I apologize for the weak metaphor, but you see what I mean. Any advice out there for me or to the other writers out there?

One last word on MFAs – despite my gripes, I don’t regret getting one. I know being in the program made me a better writer and I definitely learned more in those two years than I did in the four years I studied creative writing before that. However, they are expensive!!! I do not suggest going for the MFA right after college unless you are 100% certain that the only career for you is “author.” Even then, they’re not super necessary, but you do meet some great professors (many of whom have connections) and form a decent writing circle that will be super necessary later in your writing life.