Books You Don’t Want to Read Late at Night

Red Wheelbarrow Writers Book Club June

Yes, RWB Writers, I am still very late. But two in one day!  That’s a record for me!

For June  we chose not a genre of writing, but rather from our experience as readers: Books You Don’t Want to Read Late at Night. And, as usual—and to be expected among the Red Wheelbarrow Writers—we brought a swath of experience to the lobby at the Pickford Film Center where we meet, drink wine, eat popcorn and alert one another about memorable books from a writerly perspective. 

Of course Stephen King figured largely among our readers. The Shining freaked out more than one person. Laura R. told the story of being twelve and unable to read his Pet Semetary except in daylight and in a room full of other people. She felt the same way about his Dark Tower series.

Jean cited the work of Angela Carter, gory, yes, but the suspense, the danger, the sense of being scared doesn’t depend on the gore, but rather on the writing. Lisa cited books by Justin Cronin, a new trilogy about Vampires, The Twelve and City of Mirrors. These were enough to keep her awake. Janey was kept up all night reading a book by Tovah Jansson, The Summer Book.


Jes has been totally scared by the novels of Elizabeth Engstrom like Candyland, and Jack Remick’s novel Blood. Both of these writers are into sadism, though their novels are well written and interesting and no doubt make you squirm even if you do get to sleep.

Susan must have stayed awake many nights. She spent many years as a middle school teacher, and read all Stephanie Meyers Twilight series and the Hunger Games. She also read the Anne Rice vampire books and was kept awake by them as well. Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, writers who have been keeping readers awake for generations. But Susan’s most recent read that kept her awake was of a sadder nature, the work of Brian Doyle, a Portland writer who died earlier this year and whose Catholic spiritual writing left her awake and thoughtful. Brian Doyle’s work was among those books that keep you awake not because you are scared shitless, but because they make you think or fear or feel.


Victoria never reads scary stuff, but her mind has been boggled into wakefulness by the work of the nonfiction writer, James Gleick, and more recently by Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees, how trees communicate with one another and learn.

Frances was kept awake thinking about the book by the recent Michelle Alexander book, The New Jim Crow about civil rights in the years following the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that ordered the end of segregated schools. 

Bob, who admits to reading to too much health care stuff, is kept awake by National Geographic articles about flesh-eating parasites. He is also partial to the work of Douglas Preston, especially his Lost City of the Monkey God.

Like Victoria, I do not often read scary stuff. But a long time ago, in order to procrastinate writing a college paper I unwisely picked up a nonfiction book about the Boston Strangler. I could not put it down, and even when I was too scared to read anymore (fearing that the  Boston Strangler would appear at any moment there in Riverside, California) I was too scared to sleep. I stayed awake all night (finishing the book)  waiting  for my roommate to come home from a date. She  went straight to work from her date.  When she came home, I was wild-eyed and sleepless and insisted she read the book.  We were both so traumatized by the Boston Strangler, we finally had to turn him into an imaginary pet whom we named BS and to whom we fed imaginary bones.








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