5 Books that Play with Fire

Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers

Maybe kids who grew up in big cities (where there were things to do, and actual danger) never felt compelled to light things on fire with Bic lighters from 7-Eleven, but in the quiet, cookie-cutter suburbs of L.A., we did this a lot. (Don’t worry. Nothing got burned down.) I wouldn’t encourage young kids to play with fire, and it’s not a regular hobby of mine anymore, but I loved it. The responsible thing for a book blogger to do, I figure, is to feed the pyro-curious with a list of fiery literature, rather than risk maiming and loss of property. So, for the kid with the matches or cheap lil’ lighter in all of us, I present a pyromaniac’s reading list:

The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
Kushner’s novel isn’t as fire-filled as some of the others on this list, but you can’t beat the title, or the glimmering prose. The central incendiary elements in the story are the internal combustion engines (motorcycles and cars) that Reno, the protagonist, loves and races under the cruel desert sun of the Utah Salt Flats. Kushner also depicts flashpoints of art and politics in the 1970s—plenty of heat and speed to go around.

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire book 5), by George R.R. Martin
While not my favorite book in the series, Martin’s fifth volume debuted at #1, and is the only thing holding rabid ASoIaF and GoT fans back from insanity while he types away at books six and seven. There’s so much going on in this book that I’m not going to attempt a plot summary, but if you’ve been reading or watching the show and waiting for Daenerys’ dragons to rage and burn a lotta people/things, your wait is over.

Firestarter, by Stephen King
With this now classic 1980 release, King begat the term “pyrokinesis,” which—for those poor souls who haven’t come across the term in one fictional universe or another—is the ability to generate and manipulate fire WITH YOUR BRAIN. How cool is that? Very. And very dangerous. King’s young pyrokinetic protagonist, Charlie, may be able to melt bullets midair, but she’s relentlessly pursued by the evil government agency that experimented on her parents. If you haven’t read/seen it, I’ll just say this: don’t mess with a firestarter unless you wanna get burrrrrrrrned (or exploded).

The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
Part two of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy opens with everyone’s favorite bada%$ hacker as content/peaceful as she ever is—living in Grenada, spending the money she stole from Wennerström, studying math, spying on an abusive husband and sleeping with a 16-year-old beach orphan—before she’s pulled back into another dark, dangerous mystery replete with violent crime, sex trafficking and coverups. (Ya know, the usual.) This one, though, revolves around Lisbeth’s own dark, violent past of coverups and crime, and that fateful day long ago when she tossed a milk carton filled with gasoline into a car.

Catching Fire, by Susan Collins
Come on, the movie just wasn’t enough. No matter how many times you saw it, or how great you think J.Law is, you know you’re jonesing for more Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and Snow, so go back for a reread. Bask in sparks of revolution and some pretty great nonsymbolic fires, too. (Although, for the most memorable and traumatic blaze in the series, see book three.)

What book would you add to this list?