Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How Much Gratitude Do I Owe to 'Goosebumps'?

The original title of this piece was going to be "How Did Goosebumps Help Make Me the Man I Am Today?" However, there were a few problems with that title. First, I have trouble even considering myself a full-grown man, unless it's just an excuse to say the word man like Christopher Walken does in Wedding Crashers. Second, "the man I am today" implies that I'm somebody important. I'm not -- I'm just a well-meaning dude who teaches snot-nosed children their ABC's. (And sometimes teaches them what the '90s were.)

But I am someone (a man, I guess) who likes to read a lot. And that all started with Goosebumps, R.L. Stine's wildly popular horror series. Here, then, are the 10 ways that Goosebumps profoundly affected my life:
  • I came to appreciate catchy names, alliteration, puns, and double entendre -- intentional or otherwise -- more than I probably should. How funny is the title A Shocker on Shock Street?
  • It kept me from watching too much Power Rangers, always a plus. (That show was racist, you know.)
  • Goosebumps helped teach me that books are almost always better than their TV or film versions. (God, that Goosebumps TV show was awful.)
  • I would, I-shit-you-not, stack eight Goosebumps books on the side of my desk in fourth grade and read them all simultaneously. I picked one at any given time depending on my mood (I feel like reading about haunted technology today.) and momentum (I loved the original, so let's just start right up on Monster Blood II.). Either way, it turned me into a reading multi-tasker. Look at all the tabs open on my laptop right now:

And here's my iPad:
  • Goosebumps provided one of my first opportunities to enjoy horror stories. Later, I'd poop my pants while reading The Shining and try to guess the killer when watching Scream movies. The books I read before I turned 10 displayed to me the miracle of macabre story-telling.
  • It helped me with other school subjects besides English. In what part of the world would you find a shrunken head? In what century were knights prominent? Wait, Phantom of the Auditorium is based on a musical? I promise you that Goosebumps was instrumental in stimulating my intellectual curiosity.
  • Stine's use of advanced vocabulary often forced me to learn and adopt new terms. What's an abominable snowman? Where the hell is Pasadena? Those are the types of questions I needed to investigate.
  • I became hungry for other series, almost literally hungry. Once I finished Goosebumps, I moved on to The Boxcar Children, Great Illustrated Classics, and Matt Christopher books. Look how many topics and interests are covered in just that small sample. Sure, I'm a nerd. But look how many topics I read about! Reading a series can really have an exponential impact on a kid's education.
  • Stine employed the the cliffhanger long before Suzanne Collins did. (And I guess long after Homer did, but whatever.) A bunch of the later Goosebumps books even allowed the reader to choose the plotline following each cliffhanger. I remember anxiously reading each of those books then going back and reading what would have happened had I chosen the alternate paths. Goosebumps helped me to appreciate the importance of suspense in fiction.
  • Goosebumps made me addicted to reading, the one vice in life that I'd argue is almost an absolute positive. I'm so happy Stine provided the kindling that eventually stoked my addiction.
If you're an adult who loves to read, you probably have stories about a similar series or book that's close to your heart. (I'd love to hear about them.) If you have kids, find them a series that might spur an unhealthy love for unintentional double entendre. And if you're a kid, get yourself a series, maybe even Goosebumps. Because, who knows, maybe one day you'll grow up and have the opportunity to teach snot-nosed children their ABCs, too.

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Follow Francis Tolan on Twitter @frantweet

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