Nothing beats discovering an obscure video game that turns out to be a “hidden gem” and then sharing it with the community. It’s no different with books, as I have found out over the past year or so. And God, there are so many books out there. So many great ones. So many bad ones. But every once in a while, you come across one that leaves a lasting imprint long after you’ve read it. It magically leaves you feeling nostalgic about the story as soon as you finish that final fateful page. Kazumi Yumoto’s The Friends took me back to the good old days of boyhood summers and crazy adventures shared among friends under a scorching sun. More than a summer of fun, it’s a summer of life lessons that shape your world views, helping you to take steps toward adolescence.
Last year I found myself browsing the middle grade fiction aisle when I first ran across The Friends. Even though I’m in my mid 30s, you can never be too old for a good book with a message that even adults can appreciate. The simple title and the cover grabbed my attention. Looks like an easy read about 3 Japanese boys having random adventures in the suburbs of Japan. But what’s that boy pointing at, and what’s written on the list the other boy is holding? And good God, look at those haircuts. I swear almost every Asian boy had that hairstyle at some point in the mid ’90s! I know, because my brother had it! I flipped the book over to read the synopsis on the back. It had vibes of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie in a Japanese setting. TAKE MY TWO BUCKS!
Summer has once again arrived. But for 12-year-old Yamashita, this is no regular summer. His grandmother has passed away. Yamashita and his two best friends, Kiyama and Kawabe, are suddenly interested in what death entails. Do the dead go on to become ghosts… or what? It isn’t long that they spot a very old man who looks like he’s on the verge of crossing over to the other side. Morbidly fascinated, they begin watching him. But soon, he begins watching the boys back, and they ultimately become friends. Life lessons, both fun and hard, naturally ensue.
I read this book last June, and coincidentally enough, it opens in June. I love when that happens in books. It makes me feel like it was “meant to be.” I’m a dork, I know! But yeah, Kazumi Yumoto’s writing is simple and flows easily. It is a comforting read, even though the book touches on some deep and heavy themes. I’m actually glad I read this one first as an adult, as I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much if I had read it as a kid instead.
The bond shared between the 3 boys is endearing and nostalgic. It takes me back to my childhood summers, long and lazy hot days that seemed like they would never end. No school, no homework. Just all the hours in the day to hang out with your buds and do nothing and everything. Ahhh. Even though I didn’t grow up in Japan, I can still relate to Yamashita, Kiyama and Kawabe. They feel like friends I grew up with. Heck, at times I felt as though I were one of them. It carries the book from beginning to end, and throwing the old man into the mix gives the concoction the right amount of spice it needs. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine, and I love how Kazumi Yumoto walks that fine balance between simple and nuanced. For a middle grade book, this is a remarkable achievement!
THIS REVIEWER SAID IT PERFECTLY
I couldn’t have said it any better. There is something special about the way this book was written. It came from a time when cell phones, social media and such did not exist. When boys went out of the house to hang with their best friends and find adventure together. The humanity behind this book, and the relationship between the boys and the old man is touching and magical.
If you enjoy coming of age stories about best friends, or if the idea of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie peaks your interest, then I cannot recommend The Friends wholeheartedly enough. It’s only been a year since I read it, and already I have — illogically perhaps — an immense amount of nostalgia toward it. It’s definitely because of the way Kazumi Yumoto wrote this book. There is a timeless quality to it… the kind of book that begs to be read every few summers or so. In another author’s hands, The Friends could have been cheesy or hokey. Luckily, Yumoto found a way to make the lessons land without being overly preachy.
R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run holds quite a bit of nostalgic goodness for me. It was the very first teen thriller I ever read, and I’ll always remember it fondly as such. One day in 1995 my dad took me to the local library and I spotted it on the shelf. The covers for the older teen thrillers always used to creep me out a bit, and I guess on that particular night I finally felt brave enough to give one of his “scarier” books a try. I remember feeling excited and a little anxious on the car ride home. I read the blurb on the back feverishly, and couldn’t wait to read it and see how it would compare to his Goosebumps books.
The back had me hooked from the start. I knew it was going to be more intense than any of his Goosebumps, but just how much was the question. I remember running into my room as soon as we got home. My brother recently moved out into the bedroom down the hall because we were old enough to have some privacy of our own. And boy, was I ever glad for that. I would be able to devour this book in peace and quiet. Though I loved Boyz II Men and Selena almost as much as the next guy, it’d be awfully difficult to read a book while my brother blasted Dreaming of You or End of the Road for the 150th time.
By the way, I always got a real kick out of spotting the blood stained “Thriller” label on these teen books. It was always like a quick instant adrenaline pump. It was a simple symbol that gave me that extra jolt whenever I saw it on the shelf.
I also loved how at certain angles the fancy embossed title and R.L. Stine’s name appeared silver…
… while at other angles it appeared purple. I must have wasted 5 minutes gawking at this color change before I began reading the book in 1995! Good times.
And who could forget the classic list of other teen horror books at the back of these novels? It was fun to see all the titles and even check off the ones you have read. Sad but true: I own all of those titles above
Hit and Run is about four high school friends who love to play ribs on each other. Cassie Martin is the only girl in the group — her 3 friends are Scott, Eddie and Winks. From the first page we find out that Cassie has a crush on her friend, Scott. One of the biggest differences between these YA (Young Adult) thrillers and Goosebumps was that the characters are older and they do things teenagers in high school would do, such as kissing. I’m pretty sure the kissing scene between Cassie and Scott was the first time I read about two characters lip locking. Needless to say, as an 11 year old I remember thinking I was reading something that maybe I shouldn’t. It’s super tame now looking back on it, but that was all part of the fun and innocence of it back then reading it as a kid.
One wild night while the 4 friends are out driving, they hit a creepy looking guy on an isolated stretch of road. Stricken with panic that their futures would be over if anyone ever found out, they decide to make a pact to keep it their secret. A deadly secret that each of them would take to the grave. Only, they soon find themselves terrorized by the man they supposedly killed. But the dead can’t come back to life… or can they?
I read it in one long sitting back in 1995 and absolutely loved it. After finishing it I could almost feel the sudden growth of a few whiskers on my chin! Just 2 short years later, I Know What You Did Last Summer came out with basically the same premise. I remember thinking that they stole their ideas from R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run…
Four young friends (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr.), a hit and run, one supposedly dead body and a pact to take it to the grave. But soon thereafter they’re relentlessly stalked. Yeah, stop me if you’ve heard that one before! It was only in recent years that I found out I Know What You Did Last Summer was based off the book of the same name by an author named Lois Duncan. Oops, so much for being a copycat of R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run! Maybe it was the other way around…
Lois Duncan was a popular writer of teen thrillers back in the ’70s and ’80s.
I bought this book last year and it’s on my to-be-read list, along with like 5,000 other books! I’m curious how similar it is to the 1997 movie.
Speaking of Lois Duncan, that wasn’t her only teen thriller converted into a movie. In 2018, Down A Dark Hall was converted from the page to the screen. Of course, I bought this book last year as well, but I digress
I recently read Hit and Run for the first time in 25 years. Like a total dork, I read it late at night and tried to blow through all 164 pages in one sitting like I did when I was 11, as if to recapture some long lost magic. Alas, I had to tap out about halfway as Mr. Sandman came knocking on my door. I finished it the very next morning. It was a nostalgic read and hardly anything more. Being Stine, you can expect plenty of short paragraphs, tons of dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and fake out “scares” galore. He had a formula that worked for me when I was a kid. Now as an adult, clearly nowhere near the target demographic range, I didn’t enjoy Hit and Run as much as I did 25 years ago. It definitely loses something reading it as an adult, but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane nevertheless. You can see the “twist” coming a mile away, and I’m tempted to give it a ho-hum middle of the road (no pun intended) 2.5 out of 5 stars rating but for nostalgic reasons I’ll bump it up half a star.
As a kid I loved going to the library. My mom and dad would take me there at least once a week. I always made a beeline for the scary books. Anything that had to do with ghosts, monsters and the macabre — I was there. Over time however, namely around high school and college, I fell out of love with reading. Reading became a chore. Something I had to do in order to ace a test. I lost my way with reading, and every year “reading more” became a New Years resolution that would inevitably crash and burn by February. But as readers of Adventures in Book Shopping know, over the past year I’ve rediscovered my passion for books. So much so that I decided to add a brand new category to RVGFanatic: BOOKS R US.
I understand this may seem like quite a deviation as for the past 13+ years I’ve used RVGFanatic mainly as a platform for all things Super Nintendo. However, I have never shied away from writing about other random things. I will continue to write SNES game reviews and articles when I feel inspired to. But to be perfectly honest and frank, over the past year the bulk of my down time has been devoted to reading the many books on my to-be-read shelf. Due to this rediscovered passion of reading, I’d like to share some quick thoughts about the books I read. I hope this addition to RVGFanatic will serve you in some small way, whether it conjures nostalgic memories about books from our youth, or simply gawking at the trashy, pulpy horror fiction paperbacks that proliferated bookstores throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope you will come along for the ride! Now, let us continue on with the main show…
HOW THE FEAR BEGAN
My love for R.L. Stine began in the early-mid ’90s, when I, like countless other kids, fell helplessly in love with his Goosebumps series. My best friend Nelson and I devoured them often in one sitting.
But I knew Goosebumps weren’t the only “scary” books R.L. Stine wrote. Prior to evil talking dummies and egg monsters from space, R.L. Stine wrote scary books for a slightly older audience. His Point Horror books (such as The Babysitter series) and his Fear Street franchise were popular sellers back in the day. Reading one was sort of like a rite of passage. After consuming Goosebumps by the dozens, Fear Street was the next natural step.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Fear Street novel. One day in late 1992, Nelson and I were on our way to the kids section. But you could never get there first before passing by the aisle displaying the latest teen novels. Remember those movable glass panels libraries used back in the ’90s? It afforded you a glimpse at those teen covers and it was here that Nelson and I had our very first Fear Street encounter. The cover showed a high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutching her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. The forbidden book stood high on the top glass panel as if not to be touched. He dared me to reach up and take it down. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 year old kids…
There was nothing like going into Waldenbooks and heading straight for the horror section. There was a new Goosebumps book published each month, but perhaps even better than that was scanning the covers of all those teen thrillers. When you were only 9, it felt like you were getting a glimpse behind the curtain.
RETURN TO FEAR STREET
In January of 2019, my girlfriend and I were out for lunch one day. We ordered some Chinese food and picked up some Popeyes fries since the two stores were in the same plaza (nothing like combining different comfort food together). We had about 15 minutes to kill and saw that there was a Goodwill nearby. We checked it out and I ended up buying a book and an Ernest collection DVD for $2. The very next month we found ourselves back in that plaza and I came across an old childhood book, Bunnicula. I bought it for a buck and thus began the nostalgic book hunting adventures.
April 13, 2019. My girlfriend used to live about 2 hours away, and she worked on Saturdays until 8 PM. Both were less than ideal but we worked around it. It was on this fateful cloudy Saturday afternoon that I met up with her during her lunch break. Before heading back to work, she loaned me the key to her apartment so I could hang out at her place to watch sports or play my Switch until she gets off at 8. Before heading to her place though, something told me to check one of the Goodwill stores near her place. I had never been there before, and I kind of had this crazy feeling that I was going to find some nostalgic books from my childhood there. After pulling into the parking lot, I noticed two things right away. Number one, it was FREAKING HUGE and second, it was one of those beautiful lazy cloudy spring afternoons you never wanted to end. The good gut feeling I had prior to entering the parking lot had just multiplied tenfold! There was going to be a special find inside that Goodwill store. I could feel it in my bones…
I was speechless when I arrived at the books section. It was a freaking gold mine. Most of the books were in great condition, and each book sold for $1.99. It wasn’t long before my eye caught sight of the wonders hidden within.
R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers and Fear Street franchise haunted me as a kid, but I didn’t get to read very many of them. Mostly, I remember gawking at their gaudy covers as a kid and wishing I would be able to read them. I never got around to, other than reading maybe 5 or 6 of them. So seeing all this left me speechless. Talk about taking a time machine and rewinding the clock some 25, 30 years!
For those counting at home, there are 52 teen thrillers in the cart, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. I bought most of the Fear Street books in one fell swoop. All of them were in good to excellent condition, and it felt like one of those lucky legendary finds that you’ll never forget. I was at the right place at the right time.
In addition to the 52 books, I found 15 other books from my childhood. Stuff like Old Yeller, My Teacher is an Alien and Aliens Ate My Homework. I spent $133.33. Each book sold for $1.99. It was insane to buy 67 books, and I remember laughing to myself at what a stupid crazy find this all was, as well as how to break this to my girlfriend
Last month, it hit me that it was the one year anniversary since I bought these books. April 13, 2019. What an incredible haul, and what a fateful Saturday that proved to be. It made me recall that day and weekend with a deep fondness. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of these books in the past year until recently. But that’s the thing about a library… just as it is with video games… it’s nice knowing you have a copy for whenever the urge strikes to read (or play) a certain title. Now that I’ve added a section devoted entirely to books on RVGFanatic, be on the lookout for random book reviews and such. I’m sure I’ll end up writing about some of the books you see above. So until next time, happy gaming AND happy reading!
This past year I got back into books big time. For years on end my new years resolution would inevitably be to read more. But that never happened. But 2019 proved to be different. I began reading again. And once more, I’ve become a book fiend. I love paperback novels. I love the way they feel. The way they smell (as long as it’s not rancid). The way they transport me to magical far away places. Being a massive Halloween fan, when I found out earlier this summer that the first 4 Halloween movies were novelized, naturally I was all over that like white on rice Michael’s mask. As I write this intro, it’s late Halloween night. I spent the past 3 weeks reading the 4 Halloween novels, having just finished Halloween IV. I had a blast with each of them, some more than others. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the first novel, Halloween.
HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards
Penned by Dennis Etchison using the pseudonym of Curtis Richards, this book was released in October of 1979, one year after John Carpenter’s Halloween made a killing at the box office. A rare and collectible piece of Halloween memorabilia, the book closely follows the film but adds in enough details to differentiate it from the movie. Namely, it provides a little more background information into what makes Michael Myers tick, and it really takes on a Celtic perspective. You’ll read words like SAMHAIN and “The Druid Festival of the Dead.” It’s the perfect companion piece to the film itself, moreso in my estimation than the actual Halloween II movie sequel. It’s rather well written too, and isn’t merely a throwaway movie novelization. Check out Chapter 1 below for instance…
Not bad, eh? Really sets the mood and evokes that autumnal feeling of late October and sleepy suburbs where danger lurks in the darkness. Curtis Richards, er, Dennis Etchison, was something of a proficient horror writer in his day so it’s nice to see someone so professional handle this project.
Unfortunately, being out of print and rare, copies of this book go for a pretty penny. It seems insane to drop triple figures on a book — a rather thin 166 page book at that — but this is a nice prize for diehard Halloween fans. From now on, every October I’ll be watching the movie and reading the book. There’s something about reading the movie in written form that is immensely satisfying. It’s one of those concepts that work equally well as a novel or as a film. I’m glad we have both — the best of both worlds, as it were.
Following the smash success of Halloween, Halloween II hit theaters on Halloween Eve of 1981. The movie novelization, penned once again by Dennis Etchison who changed his pseudonym from Curtis Richards to Jack Martin, soon followed.
HALLOWEEN II by Jack Martin
Although certainly cheesy, I appreciate the creative deviations the novelization made in comparison to its film counterpart. Seeing a human face screaming out in agony covered by a carved jack-o-lantern is quite the gruesome sight. It’s exactly the kind of cover that would stop me dead in my tracks walking by a bookstore or newsstand.
As it is with movie and video game boxes, in addition to the front cover I love admiring the back as well. The summary gives you a good idea of what you’re in store for, and the back cover of Halloween II is at once simple but effective and enticing. The perfect sort of book to read snuggled up by a roasting fire on a cold October evening.
Like many movie novelizations of its time, Halloween II featured some photos plucked straight from the film. That or publicity stills, such as this eerie shot of The Shape’s evil presence looming over the desolate Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
A recurring error were the photo captions which mostly spelled Laurie as Launie. How no one in editing caught that is practically inexcusable. Thankfully, they get the name right in the book and it’s a small misstep that’s mostly harmless. I get a kick out of it every time that I see it, though. Launie Strode? Get out of here with that
Halloween II begins with this prologue. I love the part that goes, “You know what it is like.” YOU DAMN RIGHT I DO. And it’s practically the best time of the year for me. Dennis Etchison (or Jack Martin if you will) does a fantastic job of painting the scene for us. It’s Haddonfield. It’s Halloween time. It’s irresistible. Vivid sentences like “the broken moon drifting like a gauze-covered face” bring to mind gloriously rich pictures. Mr. Martin sets the mood right off the bat. You can’t help but want to read on.
Chapter One opens with the haunting line, “There was a shape in the bushes.” This is followed by letting the reader know that the dead walked in Haddonfield that night. The lines about the Devil first being seen on Lampkin Lane and being a four-foot-tall version jumps off the page to me as well. Good stuff by Etchison.
Here’s the infamous opening scene of Halloween II where the neighbor comes out asking Dr. Loomis what is going on out there. It’s always been one of my favorite scenes from the entire franchise. I just love when the neighbor goes, “Is this some kind of joke? I’ve been trick-or-treated to death tonight” followed by Loomis saying “You don’t know what death is” as he runs around the house and the Halloween theme plays. Gives me the chills every time!
But notice in the novelization it gives a little more character insight. After the neighbor asks the question, in the film Loomis answers immediately. But here, the reader can read Loomis’ most inner thoughts… how he held to the gun, the empty gun… how he thought to himself this is it. How he should have known that Michael was a force beyond human. And how Halloween is over. The games. The roles. The cheap thrills. Now it really begins. This is what I love about novelizations. The writer can color between the lines and give you a little more depth than the film does.
Here’s another shining example of more character insight. After Sheriff Brackett asks Loomis if he knows what Haddonfield is, we see that Loomis is at the point of exasperation with the Sheriff. How one can never expect more than a grunt from a pig, how it’s not the Sheriff’s fault that he is merely a pig in a game ruled by lions, tigers and boogeymen. And how the Sheriff’s very own term “slaughterhouse” is an appropriate metaphor for what might possibly come. God save us all. Loomis benefits greatly from the added insights that Etchison weaved in throughout, making Halloween II a wonderful companion piece to the film itself.
HALLOWEEN III by Jack Martin
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a polarizing and controversial film in the franchise. That’s mainly because it does not feature Michael Myers outside of a meta cameo. The producers had the idea of turning the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. It was universally panned when it originally came out in 1982 as moviegoers wanted more Michael but were instead given a movie about killer masks. Over the years however, namely in the last 15 years or so, Halloween III has earned something of a cult following. It is now viewed in the eyes of many as an underrated horror film that would have worked so much better if it were given any other name other than Halloween III.
I have vivid memories of renting it from Hollywood Video 25 years ago in 1994. Back then there was no internet, no YouTube, no Twitter. I had no idea the movie didn’t feature Michael Myers. I just thought from the cover and title that it would be about a killer witch teaming up with Michael to slaughter the denizens of Haddonfield, and that idea captivated the shit out of me as a 10 year old kid. Alas, there was no evil witch (in the sense that I was imagining at least) and certainly no Michael. I was PISSED. However, I finally rewatched Halloween III this past October for the first time since that disappointing night and I have to say, I really enjoyed it as an adult who was now able to get pass that whole Michael thing. It truly is an underrated horror film.
Ooh, how creepy! The back cover makes you want to snuggle up in bed and read. Alright, never mind that the description is grossly inaccurate to how the actual story goes…
Something about those shapes… downright demonic. The witch in particular with its sharp pointed hat… it’s an image that has burned itself into my retina from when I first saw it in 1994. Say what you will of Halloween III, it has a badass cover and the tagline “The Night NO ONE Came Home” is a clever play off the original film’s tagline “The Night HE Came Home.”
I love the scene in the movie where the homeless guy in Santa Mira — you know, the ONE guy in town who isn’t brainwashed by Silver Shamrock — tells Cochran to go fuck himself. It was a joy reading it in the novelization. Could totally visualize the actor shouting that line with rebellious fist thrown in the air and all. The paranoia is real, bleeding off the pages, and with good reason. Some shady shit is happening in the small cultish town of Santa Mira, and it’s up to Dr. Dan Challis to find out why…
Here’s a nice added bit by Dennis Etchison. The actual film only showed a small snippet of the first Halloween film, but here Etchison dives in a little deeper. You might be wondering why, or if it’s just a bit of fan service, but the next paragraph reveals the true reason why…
Challis’ wife in the movie, Linda, was played by Nancy Kyes. She also played Annie Brackett in the first Halloween film. So after Etchison wrote about the teenage girls walking down a street in the sleepy suburbs of Haddonfield, Dan Challis sees Annie and thinks to himself, “Hmm. I know the type well. Reminds me a bit of old Linda. I’ll bet that’s what she was like at that age. Always on hand with the right remark to shoot down anybody in sight.” That part made me laugh out loud. That alone is worth the price of admission!
As Etchison wasn’t shy on doing, Halloween III has its quiet moments of introspection and philosophy. It added a lot of extra depth to the characters than what the movie was able to portray. Books can just describe a character’s innermost thoughts in a way the film medium simply cannot. While I enjoy the movie itself, the novelization of Halloween III is definitely a hit and one I plan to revisit in the years to come.
HALLOWEEN IV by Nicholas Grabowsky
The first Halloween novelization not written by Dennis Etchison (AKA Curtis Richards AKA Jack Martin) was Halloween IV. While I find the cover to be simple and cool, I wish Grabowsky had gone with the classic poster version of the actual film.
The back is a bit wordy one might say, but you gotta love that bright orange for the title and the font itself.
The book starts off with this stellar prologue, immediately hooking the reader in. Once again, as with the other Halloween novelizations, there are some extra details here and there that help to better flesh out the various characters. My favorite example of this was when Brady was brawling with Michael Myers. Before he bites the dust, Brady thinks to himself for a second HEY… what if I actually put an end to this guy and become a folk hero of Haddonfield lore? It’s small stuff like that that makes it a little more interesting.
Sadly, this is where the movie novelizations stopped for Halloween. It ended at Halloween IV in 1988. There was no novelization for Halloween V in 1989, or Halloween 6 in 1995. And so forth. Who knows why? Maybe Nicholas Grabowsky’s novel didn’t sell as well as they were hoping. Or maybe the (horror) movie novelization business as a whole was starting to die out a bit.
THE CHANGING SHAPE OF AN ICONIC SERIES
Last but not least, we come to Ernie Magnotta’s Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series. This is a comprehensive retrospective on the series that covers the entire franchise sans Halloween III and the 2018 version (it came out just one day after that film premiered).
Although not a novelization, I wanted to give Ernie some love. His book isn’t definitive or the Halloween Bible by any means, but it’s kind of fun to read one man’s opinions on the Michael Myers saga.
I enjoyed reading all four Halloween novelizations this past October. They’re worth seeking out if you love the movies and you enjoy reading. The older ones will be a bit pricey, but c’mon, it’s HALLOWEEN. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare! If I had to rank and rate each book out of 5 stars, it would go as follows:
1. Halloween ****½ 2. Halloween IV **** 3. Halloween III **** 4. Halloween II ***
BONUS: THE PAPERBACK HUNT
So with these older books, it’s always fun to find a stamp inside the book telling you which paperback store it once belonged to eons ago.
Two of the Halloween novels I bought off eBay came courtesy of Westgate Book Exchange in Las Vegas. What a trip!
A quick online search and I found the place! It was fascinating to see the store pictures and visualize where my Halloween books came from however many years ago. Sadly, they seemed to have closed some time in 2015.
For the past handful of years, my New Years resolutions have always been to lose 10-20 pounds and read more again. The weight goal sees varying degrees of success, but the reading one for some reason has always managed to elude me. Until recently. For the first time in over 20 years, I’ve read 20 books already this year. It was hard to stop once I got the ball rolling. It explains the lack of updates on RVGFanatic this past summer. Usually the summer season is when I crank out material like crazy. Not so this summer. Because this was the summer I got back into books and more importantly, back into reading. How’s how it all came to be, for the morbidly curious…
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
One of the many highlights of my youth was all the library trips I took with my mom, dad and my childhood best friend, Nelson. We visited the library it felt every Friday afternoon after school. Although I loved playing video games on the weekend, I loved reading as well. I always looked forward to the end of the school week so I could raid the local library and pick up a new stack of books to devour. It was a memorable and innocent time.
Nelly and I ate up the Goosebumps series. We were absolutely in love with R.L. Stine’s monthly tomes of terror. Actually, they weren’t that big in size or scary, but as kids we couldn’t get enough.
We read some of R.L. Stine’s more grown up work as we entered junior high in the fall of 1995. Maybe some of his work hasn’t held up too well over the years but they were definitely a sign of the times. Damn good times they were.
But along the way, at some point in high school probably, I stopped reading for pleasure. Any reading I did was because I had to. Whether it was because I had to write a book report in an English Lit. class or a college professor assigned some reading for homework, suddenly reading became something of a chore more than a reward. It was a means to an end. And it would remain that way for many years… until this past year…
The seed was planted on January 13, 2019. My girlfriend and I went out to order some Chinese food for lunch. After being told there would be a 10-15 minute wait, I suggested that we hit up the Goodwill just next door to pass the time. As we walked over I shared with her that the last time I went to a Goodwill was way back in 2012. And how I found some rare Sega Saturn games for cheap which I couldn’t resist but flip on eBay for a nice little profit. I rarely did that during my game buying career, but an extra $150 or however much I was bound to rake in was difficult to resist on that cold December evening of 2012. So it was with that little trip down memory lane that I entered Goodwill with a glimmer of hope that maybe lightning would strike twice. Little did I know, it was that innocent little visit that would spur my book fervor into motion.
As we were flipping through the DVD and book section (there were no video games on hand that day), I caught glimpse of What To Expect The First Year. It was in very good condition and at only $2 I felt it would make for a tremendous resource one day. Then I spotted an Ernest Triple Feature boasting the critically acclaimed (or not) Ernest Goes To Camp, Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Goes To Jail. At 50 cents a movie, I couldn’t pass up on that. The clerk at the counter grinned when he rung me up, saying, “You can read up on babies while watching Ernest do his thing.” My girlfriend and I both laughed and that was that. If only I had known what a snowball effect this would have…
About a month later we found ourselves back at Goodwill browsing the book shelves. On that fateful day found a copy of Bunnicula. Suddenly mauled by a tidal wave of memories, I felt like I was 8 years old again. I remember seeing Bunnicula a lot as a kid, but I can’t recall any story details. Nostalgia bit me and the $1 price tag made it an easy slam dunk. Pandora’s Box was unleashed, and there was no stopping it. I suddenly began to long for all the books I read during my childhood that I wanted to read again, or to read those I had missed out on. In many ways, it was eerily similar to my SNES resurgence from early 2006. I swooped up SNES games left and right 13 years ago in 2006, and now 13 years later I was buying books by the boatload…
As I quickly discovered, Goodwill can be a gold mine for book hunting. Quality and quantity vary of course from location to location, but man have I been lucky. The Goodwill stores that I hit up always knock it out of the park. The books are usually in great condition and go for $1.99 a pop. I’ll never forget the first time my girlfriend and I ran across an unbelievable selection of books at a Goodwill. It’s rare for me to not walk away with at least an arm full of books!
Saturday, April 13, 2019. Stepping out of my car, I could feel something funny. No, not that Taco Bell burrito I had moments earlier. It was something else. I felt it in my bones. Something big was inside that Goodwill. I double checked to make sure my car was locked. Satisfied that it indeed was, I marched to the entrance like a man possessed.
As I stood there in awe and reverence, my mind did cartwheels and fist pumps as my eyes caught sight of something very near and dear to my heart… I could see them from the corner of my eyes… this was going to be a haul for the ages…
I felt like the lucky millionth customer who just won a shopping spree. The shelves boasted a bunch of R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers. I hadn’t seen those books stacked up like that in 25 years, not since I last saw them in 1994 at B. Dalton and Walden Books*. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were all in very good to great condition, $1.99 a pop and ripe for the taking. I was in book Heaven! It was like righting a childhood wrong; I always wanted to read more of Stine’s teen thrillers but I only read a small handful. This was a second chance!
Freaking out on the inside, for a moment it felt as if time had stood still. I could see sounds, smell colors. A swirling sensation wrapped around me as I found myself instantly transported back to B. Dalton or Walden Books some 25+ years ago. Today’s find was one for the ages. I stole a glance around the store to see if time did in fact freeze. A few ladies down the aisle were shopping for clothes while a boy and girl ran down another aisle laughing and joking. Snapping out of my trance, I calmly began to place the books into the shopping cart by the handful.
I could tell the books were donated by the same person. And that he or she kept them in great condition. The only R.L. Stine teen thrillers already in my library were The Babysitter I-III, Silent Night 1 and 2, and I Saw You That Night! So most of Stine’s offerings sitting before me were taken off the shelf and judiciously plopped into the shopping cart.
Back in 1995 my dad took me to the library on a Friday night and I borrowed a book called Hit and Run. I got home that night and started reading the book. I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I remember being absolutely hooked and enthralled by it. There’s nothing like being wrapped up in a good book. Nearly 25 years later and here it was, live in the flesh. The thrill of book hunting!
I bought 52 teen thrillers that day, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. At $1.99 a pop, it ran me a total of $103.48. An insane amount to spend on books, I know, but to get most of Stine’s older work in one fell swoop felt like a chance encounter. One not to squander or pass on. Especially in the condition they were in. I could make 1,000 more Goodwill trips and probably would never run into something this good ever again.
Back at my girlfriend’s place, I sprawled the books out to take a photo. I have no idea how long it’ll take me to read them all. Honestly, I’ll probably end up reading only the ones I really want, and not get around to the others. So why still buy them all? Part of it is to set up one hell of a library for any future children I may have one day. If I ever have kids, one thing’s for sure, they’re going to develop a love for literature.
On Saturday, May 4, 2019, my girlfriend was working but had a chance to swing by a Goodwill for a minute. She snapped this photo and texted it to me. I zoomed in and gasped. I found a childhood book, The Time of the Witch by Mary Downing Hahn, that I always wanted to read but never ever ran across. I remember reading a preview of it once in a book when I was young and being intrigued ever since. You know, those blurbs you would find on the back pages of a book. A fan of Hahn’s writing, she wrote many scary books for kids over the years. So to see it at last blew my mind.
I frantically texted my girlfriend back, telling her to please pick up The Time of the Witch (and The Jellyfish Season also by Mary Downing Hahn). I showed her where on the picture and she was left stunned. “How in the HELL were you able to make that out?! Alright baby, you got it.” What a saint
We met up at a pizza parlor on her lunch break and she handed me the books. It was the first time I ever saw The Time of the Witch. I was ecstatic. When you’re building a library, any wanted book found is worthy of a (mental) fist pump.
I always get a kick out of reading the back of books, much like I do the back of video game boxes. There’s something cool about it that takes you back to the days of reading the back of VHS boxes at your local rental store!
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOPS
Beyond Goodwill, I’ve found plenty of nice finds at local bookshops. Support them! They’re good for the community and you might run into some really good stuff.
I read the first Wizard of Oz book as a kid, and absolutely adored it, but I never read the other 13 books in the series. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to doing.
SCORE! At last I found a copy of Curtains by R.L. Stine. This was one of those books that haunted me during my childhood due to the intensity and creepiness of the art cover.
My favorite film of all time is Field of Dreams. It’s just a fun, uplifting and magical movie. The soundtrack is absolutely spine-tingling. Years later I discovered it was adapted from a novel called Shoeless Joe. I remember borrowing a copy from the library in 1999 and reading it. I enjoyed it and have always wanted to reread it. 20 years later, I finally have that chance
Speaking of novels made into movies, Jaws by Peter Benchley was on my want list from the beginning of 2019. 7 months later I finally ran across a mint copy at a local bookstore. I loved how the white spine and crazy shark art on the spine made it stand out in the crowd. For this one I might have actually done a legit fist pump… no shame! It’s an interesting read for sure, but the movie is definitely better. Still, it’s nice to see where the movie was inspired from.
I’m such a sucker for the old Point Horror teen books with their cool art covers. It just takes you back to an innocent time where all the rage were thrillers and horror stories. Diane Hoh and Eve Bunting had some good ones.
On the hunt for more childhood books and ones I never got around to reading, I found one of my absolute favorites on this trip. Remember the author Robert Kimmel Smith? He penned such books as The War With Grandpa, Jelly Belly and Chocolate Fever.
But it was Mostly Michael that stuck with me over the years. I had to get the original edition I read from my childhood, and there it was in very good condition. It was my first time seeing it since my youth years, and it gave me a jolt of nostalgia that tickled my toes. It’s about a boy who receives a diary journal for his birthday. At first he thinks it’s a crock, but he writes in it and through his entries you get to experience what he goes through. I remember being captivated by it as a kid and the ending was very touching I recall. Can’t wait to read it again.
For the most part, I’m not a fan of today’s kids books in terms of art covers and such. There was something magical about a classic Dell Yearling book cover that I absolutely can’t get enough of. Apple Paperbacks are also good as well as Avon Camelot, but Dell Yearling takes the cake for me. And no author in my opinion represented Dell Yearling better than Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder penned some really interesting books. Her style is unique and charming. I never read her books as a kid but boy do I wish I had.
Naylor’s Witch series was one I missed out on as a kid. I wish I didn’t. I mean, just look at that cover! It’s creepy and unsettling. This is the stuff you don’t see anymore. Nothing beats a classic Dell Yearling novel. The Witch Herself is the 3rd book in a 6 part series.
The first in the Witch series, Witch’s Sister, eluded me for months. Sure I could have bought a more recent edition, but those lack soul and character. I waited it out, and when I spotted the original edition of Witch’s Sister sitting on the shelf, I did cartwheels internally.
I missed out on these books as a kid, but they look great for some Halloween reading
The Henry Reed series by Keith Robertson is another great one I was able to hunt down and highly recommend.
Before moving towns in the 7th grade, my best friend Nelson gave me a book called The Bullies and Me by Harriet Savitz. It was about a boy who moved towns, got bullied and had to figure out a way of making sense in his own world. It felt like art imitating life, although I didn’t get bullied in my new town thank goodness. Still, the message of the story resonated deeply with me. I even wrote a review for it on Amazon way back in the year 2000.
GOING TO READING THE MOVIES
The best part of a book hunting trip is going into the store with a mental list of some books you want but knowing the odds aren’t great that you’ll find it since they’re of the older variety… and then finding it! On this particular jaunt, I walked in thinking how nice it would be if I could find the movie novelization for Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff. I remember seeing it on the shelf all the time as a kid in the early ’90s, but never getting a chance to read it as I was too young at the time. After making my rounds in the young adult section, I almost went to pay for the books when a funny feeling said to check the Sci-Fi section. Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a mint copy of Gremlins 2! What can I say, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a book you’ve long wanted in the wild.
Fun story: the night my girlfriend came home following my purchase of Clash of the Titans (the original 1981 version not the 2010 remake), we watched the movie. It turned out that her grandfather used to love watching it and she would watch it along with him. I hadn’t seen the movie in over 25 years and I thought it held up surprisingly well. Now I gotta read the book
Alan Dean Foster has been a busy man. He’s penned many books and many movie novelizations. His finest work, according to many, is the original Alien. Some go as far as to claim it’s the best movie novelization ever crafted. Read it for yourself and decide!
This was the big one. There are only 6 books in the history of mankind I can think of that are bursting with enough machismo to be able to fill my mailbox like that. Let’s rip ‘er open to see which 6 they are…
I truly am a sucker for movie novelizations. Some are bad but the good ones add details in a way a movie can never quite hit. Similar to video game adaptations of blockbuster movies, it’s fun to suss out the diamonds in the rough.
FUN NOTES AND MORE
One fun perk of buying old used books is you never know what you might find inside. Sometimes you might find the author’s signature, other times a friendly letter left tucked inside or even alternative endings. It’s all part of the fun!
This past summer has seen a resurrection for my love of books and reading. For years my goal would always be to read more but inevitably I would never carve out the time. This year alone I’ve already read 20 books. Admittedly, I’ve gone a little book crazy. My girlfriend will surely attest to that. My book resurgence is very similar to how I got back into the SNES in 2006. There are many parallels. I remember getting back into the fandom and the feeling of excitement that would course through my veins knowing that any swap meet (or book store) would assuredly mean coming home with several goods. Part of me is honoring the past by rereading old childhood favorites, but another part of me is honoring the future and what might come. I’m building a massive library for my future kids. They’ll never run out of literature to read and if public libraries do ever go the way of the dinosaur, at least my kids will have a safe haven. And certainly, libraries these days don’t carry the old classics. There will be plenty of Apple Paperbacks, Avon Camelot and Dell Yearling books for my kids to enjoy! I know it’s impossible to read every single book in my library but that’s just it. A library is meant to present one with many different choices at any given time depending on your current mood.
As much as I love the hunt and thrill of finding books to add to my library, nothing beats getting wrapped up in a really good novel. The words start to jump off the pages, worlds and characters form almost tangible images in your mind and it’s imagination intertwining with literacy and art at its finest. Not every book is worthwhile or memorable, but it’s awesome when you read one that sweeps you away. It’s a great feeling. You find it hard to put the book down and you hate when it ends. Some stories definitely stay with us for the long haul. I hope this article inspires you, if you haven’t read much lately, to look for a book that strikes your fancy. Who knows, maybe you’ll start reading regularly again just as I have. And on a final note… look for a certain series of book reviews coming in October right here on RVGFanatic!
Growing up there weren’t many things better than going to the local library. Unlike a trip to the toy or video game store, with the library you knew you were never coming home empty-handed. A journey to the library meant wild adventures with seafaring pirates, chocolate factory crazed CEOs and magical phantom tollbooths. Your imagination had no limits and each book took you somewhere exciting and new. My childhood is filled with good memories of heading to the local library with my parents and my best friend, Nelson.
For kids growing up in the mid ’90s, GOOSEBUMPS was a phenomenon. It was a monthly horror series for kids. The books were not really scary but R.L. Stine found lightning in a bottle. Dark humor, twist endings and spooky happenings that was as addictive as it was macabre. Many kids in the mid ’90s became readers because of R.L. Stine’s tentpole series. Because of Goosebumps I came to love reading. Not only that but I became interested in writing as well. I am far from the only ’90s kid for which that rings true. 20+ years ago all the kids were reading them and discussing the latest chapter (excuse the pun) in the famed franchise out on the playground. The writing wasn’t Hemingway or Fitzgerald, and there was a certain cheesiness to them, but in a way, it was all part of the charm. And a sign of the times. It was more about the feelings that these books evoked. Seeing a new Goosebumps book on the shelf sent a quick shiver down your spine. Be it mutant worms or sinister scarecrows, the books gave kids a rush like few other books did.
THE BIRTH OF A MONSTER
It all began in July 1992. Right away the embossed title and spooky artwork grabbed my attention. At the time there really wasn’t anything else quite like it. WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE. Oh wait, is it called Goosebumps, or Welcome to Dead House? And just who is that creepy bedraggled figure in the window there? So many questions raced through my mind. And so too for Amanda and Josh, the two protagonists of the story. Arriving at their new home in Dark Falls, they can’t help but feel a strange sense of dread about their neighborhood. Despite being the middle of July, there seems to be an artificial darkness created by massive, overhanging tree limbs. Dark brown leaves and shadows are everywhere. Just who is that ghost in the house that Amanda saw? And with this classic first entry, the cult series was off and running.
STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT was its second entry in the series.
It’s a lovely warm winter day in California. Siblings Margaret and Casey Brewer are outside playing frisbee. Margaret flings the frisbee her dad’s way as he passes through the backyard. Mr. Brewer gruffly declines, stating he has too much work to do in the basement. But, what exactly does he do in the basement, anyhow? Neither Margaret nor Casey knows, but something is happening down there…
Ever since he got fired from PolyTech, their dad has buried himself away in the basement. Slaving away at all hours of the night, he’s been experimenting with plants. Once, Margaret tried to get a sneak peek at her father’s laboratory, only for him to fire her a stone cold glare, yelling STAY OUTTA THE BASEMENT!
Goosebumps returned in September 1992 with its third entry, Monster Blood. It opens with 12 year old Evan Ross being dropped off at his creepy old aunt Kathryn’s for a few days. He soon bumps into Andy, a cute 12 year old girl in the neighborhood, who asks him to accompany her into town to pick up an early birthday present for her cousin. All too happy to oblige, Evan joins her as the two end up at a toy store in town called Wagner’s Novelties and Sundries. There they find a metal can with the words MONSTER BLOOD written on it. Naturally, the shopkeeper warns them not to buy it but they insist and pandemonium soon ensues.
Kris rearranged her pillows, then glanced across the room to the window. The dummy’s face was half covered in shadow now. But the eyes glowed as if he were alive. And they stared into hers as if they were trying to tell her something. Why does he have to grin like that, Kris asked herself, trying to rub away the prickly feeling on the back of her neck. She pulled up the sheet, settled into the bed, and turned on her side, away from the wide, staring eyes. But still, even with her back turned, she could feel them gazing at her. Even with her eyes closed and the covers pulled up to her head, she could picture the shadowy, distorted grin, the unblinking eyes. Staring at her. Staring. Staring. She drifted into an uncomfortable sleep, drifted into yet another nightmare. Someone was chasing her…
Goosebumps was quickly turning into a household name. Initially, I purposely avoided it. I was a quirky kid: if something became too popular and I was not there in the beginning as a fan, then I hated hopping on the bandwagon. So while everyone at my school was raving about Goosebumps, I stubbornly held out. That all changed one fateful day in late ’93. It was reading time in Mr. G’s 5th grade class. I chose The Girl Who Cried Monster. Figured it couldn’t hurt to read a few pages. A few pages turned into the entire book. It was a spin-off on the classic tale The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Lucy is obsessed with monsters. Late one night, in search of her roller blades, Lucy gets locked in when the librarian closes up shop. She never realized how spooky the library can be until she found herself shrouded in its dark, twisted corridors. That’s when she discovers a horrifying truth: Mr. Mortman is a monster!
I’ll never forget standing there that day in 5th grade, staring at Mr. G’s books trying to pick one to read for silent reading time. I saw The Girl Who Cried Monster near the top of the shelf and finally succumbed. I never looked back.
October 1993. In time for Halloween, The Haunted Mask is one of the greatest Goosebumps books of all time. It tells the tale of Carly Beth: a shy, overly trusting, reserved girl bullied by some guys at school. Carly Beth is often a target for torment. After being scared yet again by the bullies, Carly Beth decided it was time to deliver a little payback. Riding into town she heads for the local costume shop. Distraught that it’s closed for the evening, fate stepped in. The mysterious owner of the store opened the door, ushering her in. As the owner tends to his shop, Carly Beth stumbles into the backroom where she finds the most hideous and grotesque mask one could ever hope to see. The owner refuses to sell her the one she wants, but she throws her money at him and takes off. After racing home she puts the mask on. It feels horribly warm and flesh-like. Her voice changes as well as even her demeanor when adorning the foul mask. The more she put it on, the harder it became to take off. What follows is an unforgettable Halloween night of mischief, revenge and terror. Steve and Chuck get the scare of their lives, and Carly Beth relishes her ultimate conquest. However, Halloween is now over… and the mask justwon’t come off. Packed with Halloween atmosphere, The Haunted Mask is arguably R.L. Stine’s finest work.
By December 1993 there wasn’t a single kid who didn’t have Goosebumps fever. The last entry that year was The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. One of the gnarliest covers in the series, the book opens with this chilling intro:
We moved to Florida during Christmas vacation. A week later, I heard the frightening howls in the swamp for the first time. Night after night, the howls made me sit up in bed. I would hold my breath and wrap my arms around myself to keep from shivering. I would stare out my bedroom window at the chalk-colored full moon. And I would listen. What kind of creature makes such a cry? I’d ask myself. And how close is it? Why does it sound as if it’s right outside my window? The wails rose and fell like police car sirens. They weren’t sad or mournful. They were menacing. Angry. They sounded like a warning.
You Can’t Scare Me opened up 1994 with a bang. The 15th entry in the franchise, it sported a strikingly creepy cover that you couldn’t help but stare long and hard at. The aesthetic of the design is perfect. From the embossed title to the memorable artwork to the cheesy little tagline, each book’s cover was special in its own way.
Courtney is a total show-off. She thinks she’s so brave and she’s always making fun of Eddie and his friends. But Eddie’s had enough. Eddie is going to scare Courtney once and for all. And he’s got the perfect plan. He’s going to lure her down to MUDDY CREEK. Because Eddie knows she believes in that silly rumor about the monsters. Mud monsters that live in the creek. It’s too bad Eddie doesn’t believe the rumors…
#16, One Day At HorrorLand, still haunts me to this day. As a little kid I always fancied amusement parks and small town carnivals. It always spooked me to think… what if the attraction site holds a terrible secret… a secret no one is supposed to ever know. What if there was a bloody murder or mishap years ago that haunts the place? I mean, working in a carnival has got to drive one a bit nutty. Who knows what kind of death trap we could be stepping in? One Day At HorrorLand examines those childhood fears and more.
When the Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park, they stumbled onto another amusement park instead. Never seen or heard of before, there are no lines, no crowds and no hassle at HorrorLand. It seems to be everything one could ask for: killer rides and none of the wait. But as the Morris family is about to find out, the rides are killer indeed. Because there’s something weird about the rides at HorrorLand…
One of my favorite things about Goosebumps was reading the back cover. It always sported a lovely caption along with prose that made you want to read the whole book in one sitting right then and there. But the best part was down at the bottom. It actually revealed the title of next month’s entry! Why I’m Afraid of Bees, #17 in the series, is one I will never forget. My best friend Nelson received the book one cold morning. Nelly and I sat across the room from each other. I saw his jaw drop as he read the back cover. What could it be? Nelly showed me the back cover but being across the room I couldn’t quite make it out. That’s when Nelson flipped to the end of the book where there was a page with bigger text. And there I saw it.
At that point I knew about sequels in the world of movies and video games. But I never saw a sequel to a book before. Mind you I was 10 at the time and not the biggest book connoisseur, but yeah. It just blew my mind that R.L. Stine was penning a sequel to one of the most iconic books in his famed franchise. It gave Nelson and me great hope that there may be sequels for other greats in the months to come, such as Night of the Living Dummy and The Haunted Mask. (We got our wish, by the way).
#20 in the series holds a distinct soft spot in my heart. I have always been big on round numbers and coming out in May 1994, it was the last book order of 5th grade. Heading into the summer with the latest Goosebumps entry sounded like a pretty bang up way to kickstart one’s summer. And one of the coolest things about these books was hoping and wishing that R.L. Stine would write one centered around a certain monster or nightmare you were particularly fond of. For me, it was scarecrows. I’d always been fascinated by them; the idea that evil spirits could possess them was a scary thought. With their hideous burlap faces and twisted bodies, scarecrows are the last thing I want to stand next to under a full moon. No thank you!
October 1995. The long awaited sequel to The Haunted Mask finally arrives, a full two years later. This time, Steve (the bully from the first book) finds a horrible mask and it latches onto him like a face hugger. Yeah, sure, it makes Steve the king of scares on this Halloween night, but the problem is, the longer Steve wears the decrepit mask, the older and older his body feels…
R.L. STINE BEFORE GOOSEBUMPS
In the early ’90s it was a weekly tradition for my mom to take me and my best friend, Nelson, to our local library. On our way to the children’s section we had to pass by the aisle containing teen novels, displayed in movable glass panels. Their cover would stick out and you could see some of the books. One day in late ’92 Nelson and I were strolling by when we caught sight of a cover so incredibly disturbing and creepy that it would forever haunt us. A high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutches her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. It stood high on the top glass panel as not to be touched. He dared me to read it. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 years old…
R.L. Stine’s teen horror novels from that point on became the stuff legends were made of. Nelson and I would peek at the covers whenever we went to the library, but neither of us dared to even pick one up. We definitely made them out to be scarier than they were, but it was all part of the fun of being a kid and being best friends with someone who also loved monsters and horror as much as you did. Throughout ’93 and ’94 it became sort of a running joke between the two of us to see who would read the first teen horror novel. Nelson and I both saw Stine’s teen novels as Goosebumps on steroids. While they scared me as a kid, that didn’t stop me from admiring the covers whenever I stopped by the book store or the library. One of the most gripping and memorable covers was CURTAINS. The image of the lady trying to stab the guy is one that has never left me. These teen novels seemed legitimately disturbing, especially when you were 9 or 10. Even more than 20 years later, most of their art covers are still firmly embedded in my mind.
THE NEXT LEVEL OF FEAR
Fall 1995. I just began the 7th grade. It was silent sustained reading (SSR) time in my language arts class. I thumbed through my teacher’s library of books, trying to find something decent to pass the time. That’s when I first stumbled upon The Babysitter. It’s actually one of the older books R.L. Stine wrote. The Babysitter tells the awful tale of a high school babysitter being stalked by a stranger in the night. Creepy stuff. The back had the best description:
From the minute Jenny accepted the Hagen babysitting job, she knew she had made a mistake. First there was the dark and disheveled Hagen house, moaning and groaning with her every step. Then the crank phone calls started. “Hey babe. Are you all alone? COMPANY’S COMING.” When Jenny discovered a creepy neighbor prowling in the backyard and a threatening note in her backpack, she realized this wasn’t just a harmless game. But who would want to hurt her? What kind of maniac wanted to scare Jenny… to death?
I love this book and actually reread it about six years ago. It holds up well; I believe it’s perhaps Stine’s finest work. Published in the summer of 1989, it also has the distinction of being one of his earliest efforts. The Babysitter made ya think twice, even thrice, about babysitting.
SEND IN THE CLONES!
As with anything else that catches fire, inevitably you’ll get some clones popping up in an attempt to get their own slice of the pie. Goosebumps inspired a string of horror novel series for kids. The first I can recall was Betsy Haynes’ Bone Chillers. Even the title was embossed! There was no shame. The Bone Chillers series opened with Beware the Shopping Mall and ran for a solid 20-plus entries. Of all the clones, I liked this one the most. I’m particularly fond of Frankenturkey. It’s as absurd as it is abominable. Like the other clones, I never chose Bone Chillers over Goosebumps, but they were a decent alternative whenever the latest Goosebumps book was checked out at the library. Hell, there was even a 13 episode run of Bone Chillers on ABC television in the mid-late ’90s. Not bad, Miss Haynes, not bad at all.
Ah, Shadow Zone. My least favorite of the clones, it does hold a special spot in my heart, though. My mom took me and Nelson to the library as usual one day, and we saw Shadow Zone sitting there. Another clone, I thought to myself, and I know Nelson thought the same. There’s something unspeakably awesome about discovering something alongside your best friend. The books themselves weren’t very good. They seemed to lack the charm of Goosebumps. The artwork was also quite awful. The Goosebumps covers were more often hit than miss, but Shadow Zone had some terribly unappealing art Nevertheless, Shadow Zone was a sign of the times: a time when seemingly everyone and their brother was hopping on the youth horror novel bandwagon. If nothing else, it gave us plenty of choices to choose from.
Deadtime Stories. Again with the popular embossed letters, this series was written by the Cascone sisters. I felt it fell somewhere in-between Bone Chillers and Shadow Zone. It wasn’t bad, but it was not my favorite of the clones either. It was just… kinda there. They did have some pretty badass covers, though, so I’ll give them that much. The Faerie Tale one sticks out in mind… it was genuinely creepy to see back in the day, and even now it remains a bit unsettling to look at.
Finally, we have Graveyard School. They were unique in the sense that all the stories revolved around the students of Graveyard School. It was cool to see some sort of connection from one book to the next. Plus, as a kid I got a huge kick out of the author’s fake name, Tom B. Stone. Oh Mr. Stone, you are a funny one, good sir. I was not a huge fan, though. Like Deadtime Stories it was just kind of there for me. Still, not a bad read from time to time when Goosebumps was checked out.
AND A SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO…
I would be gravely remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to SCARY STORIES to Tell in the Dark. Published in 1981, it’s one of those infamous books we saw in bookstores growing up that we wanted to pick up but were too scared to. I finally read through it in the 4th grade. And simply put, it scared the shit out of me. The stories were as disturbing as the twisted artwork itself. It seemed like something that crawled straight out of hell. Those eerie black and white drawings are firmly embedded in my soul. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you probably have a memory of Scary Stories as well. It was just one of those infamous books that everyone knew about. It was damn near mythical.
The one story that haunts me most, as well as many others, is the one about the lady who got bit by a spider. A red spot appears on her left cheek. She thinks nothing of it. One day she begins scratching it because it’s so itchy. The spot pops and out comes crawling dozens of baby spiders. Ugh. The drawing still creeps me out to this day. This was the story my friends and I always referred to whenever we talked about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories book. In fact, they’re making a movie about it. I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s half as disturbing as the book was, it will be a mega-hit! Do our childhood proud, Guillermo Del Toro!
Goosebumps played a big role during my childhood. Not only did they cement me as an avid reader, but it grew my love for horror. Goosebumps came during a special period in my life. Right around 1993 and ’94 when the SNES, Saturday morning cartoons and toys were all running wild — what a great time to be a kid. My old best friend Nelson and I used to have friendly competitions where we’d see which one of us could read the latest book each month first. Then we would discuss our thoughts the next day out on the playground. It was all part of the fun. Talk to any kid who grew up during the mid ’90s and they’re sure to fondly recall Goosebumps. Yeah, it was a little cheesy. But there is no denying the success the franchise enjoyed and the profound impact it had on a generation of kids who are now grown adults. Thanks in big part to R.L. Stine, we came to love books and things that go bump in the night. Simply put, Goosebumps struck lightning in a bottle, and I’m lucky to have lived through that era. Looking back, it was truly a magical time.