Toby Neal’s Picks
I’m a mystery/suspense writer and diagnostic mental health therapist, and I began my “profiling” of people very early—as an 11-year-old babysitter.
(Let’s not go there on my age—I think I hired out to babysit and houseclean at age ten. I was the oldest of four in an alcoholic home. “Responsible”
doesn’t begin to describe what an anal-retentive little control freak I was at eleven.)
I loved nothing more than to put the aforementioned babysat children to bed, wash the dishes, vacuum the house, turn on the TV (in case anyone came home unexpected) and begin an FBI-level search through my clients’ homes. It was my idea of a good time all through my teens, and no one (until now) ever knew, suspected, and did anything but sing my praises as the Best Babysitter Ever. (“She plays with the kids, and even does the dishes!”)
I would begin with the bathroom cabinets, making note of all medications (looking them up as best I could pre-internet) progressing through kitchen cabinets (where I inventoried food choices and drew conclusions) to underwear drawers, and I would end these curiosity-satisfying forays at the bedside table.
Ah, what a wealth of personal info can be found in a decent bedside table.
I catalogued money, threatening notes, hair pieces, hash pipes, sex toys, love letters, bodice rippers, porn stashes, and even guns.
Compared to that, and perhaps because of it (though my days of hiring babysitters have ended now that my kids are grown and gone) my bedside table is sadly bare. It has wire legs, and a stack of books underneath. Those books are nearly high enough to lift it off the ground, but that’s my rule: when the bedside table achieves liftoff, I have to finish something and put it away on the (bulging) shelves in the front hall.
But first, I know you want to know what’s on top of the aforementioned bedside table. I keep three things on top of the table: my Kindle (which has
helped reduce the bookstack a lot, but not entirely) a pair of earplugs, and a big pump-bottle of Cetaphil lotion.(It’s not good for lube, in case your dirty little minds were wondering. Soaks in too fast.)
Very disappointing for my fellow voyeurs out there. Sorry. Underneath the bedside table is where things get really confusing, if you were trying to profile me. Top of the stack of towering books is:
The Mental Health Diagnostic Desk Reference, by Carlton Munson, Ph.D.
Yes, I do mental health evals as part of my practice, and sometimes before bed a client’s symptoms will be aggravating me, and I need to take out my earplugs—you detectives out there, yes, I’m married and the hubby snores, God bless him—turn on the light, and read through to make sure I gave the
right diagnosis, or maybe there’s something different…for instance, there are 33 subtypes of Bipolar Disorder alone. And I like to get it right.
Nine Rules to Break when Seducing a Rake, by Sarah McClean
One step down from a bodice ripper. I’m telling all here, and I do love a romance now and again! Titles change but there’s always one in the stack for
when I need a happy feeling
Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Horrifying and fascinating reading, research for my writing.
Abundance: the Future is Better than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
I need good news, and this nonfiction, about the potential of humans to solve problems, is a mind expander and very well written. Plus it has a great
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
My daughter is a cell scientist at Stanford. In addition to being fascinated by biology, I’m writing a mystery that centers on a lab, all of which got me to
buy the book. This one makes me feel virtuous just for reading it—and it’s a damn good book for nonfiction.
The South Beach Diet, by Arthur Agatson
Always there to make me feel crappy about my eating habits and extra pounds, but there to show I have intentions to change.
The Poet, by Michael Connelly
This is the best book of his I’ve read, and while I should have put it in the front shelves by now, I can’t bear to move it away, as if I could absorb some of his magic by having it near.
The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, by Holly Robinson
Funny and wonderful memoir by my good friend Holly. It’s signed. I treasure it and it’s my favorite memoir.
The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr
Another memoir. Are you detecting a trend? Yes, I’m getting ready to write my own, by doing “market research.” Funny, touching and horrible, just as a memoir should be.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller
Another memoir. Haven’t started this one yet but Holly, who’s helping me get motivated, said it’s a Must Read.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
I wrote a whole blog post on this, and how it inspired my new YA novel, Aumakua. I keep it near for magical purposes, like the Connelly book.
So, if you were profiling me, what would you see? I leave you to pick up a few of these really great books and find out.
Toby Neal was raised on Kaua`i in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5. After initially majoring in journalism, she settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated by people’s stories.” Toby credits her counseling background in
adding depth to her characters–from villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous multicultural heroine of the Lei Crime Series. The latest book in her series, Black Jasmine, is out now.
We’d love to know what books are waiting for you on your nightstand. Send a picture along with a description to us here.
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