What Does Your Bedside Table Say About You? by Toby Neal



Toby Neal, bestselling author of Hawaii mysteries Blood Orchid and Torch Ginger
Toby Neal



What does your bedside table say about you? 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.

(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 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 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, handcuffs and knives. .

Compared to that, and perhaps because of it, my own 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, and is where I have hundreds of indie books stored) 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.)

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, Carlton Munson, Ph.D. (Yes, I do mental health evaluations 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 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.)Image showing three Hawaii mysteries by bestselling author Toby Neal, Blood Orchid, Torch Ginger and Black Jasmine

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 has a great cover!)

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 reasons got me to buy the book. This one makes me feel virtuous just for reading it—and it’s a damn good book.)

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.)

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.)

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)

What does your bedside table say about you?


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15 thoughts on “What Does Your Bedside Table Say About You? by Toby Neal”
  1. Great books, Toby! I have many on my Kindle also. Mary Karr is one of my all time fav memoirists. I love her ability to cut to the heart, no holds barred. It’s what I look to do with my own writing.

    I find most writers are avid readers, so this is a fun peek. thanks babe!


    1. I wish I could list a stack of indie books, but all my indie purchases have been ebooks! I am still a fan of print for ones I want to share, re-read, and for nonfiction. Now that would be a good blog topic…

  2. Great post, Toby. Who would have thought so much information could be gleaned from the bedside table? I’m not sure exactly what mine says about me, but I’m afraid to open the two bottom drawers. So I’m thinking neat freak probably isn’t it.

  3. Toby, I loved this post. I’m glad you weren’t around as a babysitter when we needed one at our house.
    On the memoir front, I have my working title, Me and Then Some. I think that creates latitude for some poetic license when required.
    Posts like this really make me want to read your books. Regards, Stephen Woodfin

    1. LOL, I never did anything (like blackmail, ha ha) to my clients. I was just a very, very nosy and curious kid which led to being a curious adult, which is a good quality in a therapist and writer. I never have to fake how interested I am in my clients.

  4. I love this post, though I’m horrified! Thanks for the heads up, Toby. I better see what’s in my nightstand drawer. 😉 We have the exact same items on top of our nightstand, right down to brand names. I also have a family pic that looks to be in need of a dusting. 🙂

    1. LOL on the same items. And, I consider this post a service announcement to parents. Babysitters can be quite nosy… I see now how my curiosity led to being good at my careers. All “grist for the mill” as they say!

  5. Whew! I feel so much better knowing that there were others, like me, who had crazy habits while being a babysitter. I was a full-time sitter at the age of eleven for a single mother of two who dated quite frequently. Said single mother was the fantasy of every male in the neighborhood, and at the top of the hated list of every female. You can only imagine what I discovered on her nightstand. 🙂

  6. Oh my. We truly are related, Toby. So, have you a theory on the nosy trait? I know I am visually ravenous – almost no environment has enough visual stimulation to satiate me, so part of it is just that – the desire to see absolutely everything in the world. I’m also an information addict. I can handle literally anything so long as I’m well informed about it. Plenty of snoop drive in that. At age 11, I sat in class, next to huge windows, and analyzed people passing by. Why did he take of his hat and turn around just then? Why did she choose to wear those shoes, if she was going to be out walking? But it goes deeper than that. I’m not just curious about an object’s owner, I’m curious about the object too. What are you? Where did you come from? Don’t sit across from me on the subway with a nicely wrapped gift in your lap. I only have so much restraint before my curiosity bests me – and that gift you took such care to wrap. I want to know what you selected, and why? Did you choose it because it fit your budjet ( are you one of those people who spends exactly 20.00 on a gift?) or because you liked it, or because it fit the person to a T?

    I haven’t outgrown this. Like you, I’ve simply found more socially acceptable outlets, like getting people to offer up the information, instead of snooping for it. I’ve become that person people meet and immediately open up to. Like the acquaintance I knew only through business, who volunteered this one day “Sometimes when I wake up at night and have to pee, I don’t want to get out of bed, so I just say “Aw fuck it” and wet the bed. ” The next person might judge a grown woman – a mother, no less – harshly for this, but heck, I admire an open, honest person, and I appreciate them too.

    1. Hey cuz! There’s no doubt this is a family thing–my mom is super curious too. It’s a blessing when channeled right–I truly am that interested in my clients and never have to fake it, and it’s all great grist for the writing mill!

  7. Nice post. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I keep many of the things that mean a lot to me on a channel built into the bedside table, my Kindle below, and my passport in the drawer…

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