The first book I ever read on my own was a “Goosebumps” book. I mean, it wasn’t the first book that I ever read, but it was the first book that I ever picked out and wanted to read. It wasn’t a gift or a book that my parents thought would be cute. It was the first time I can ever recall doing due diligence to make a major life choice.
It was the fall of 1994 and the first Scholastic book fair of the year. I scoured the colorful, flimsy tissue-like paper, sifting through the intimidating titles (“The Giver” anyone?) and the books I was too old and cool for (apologies to the good doc, but it would be a little while before I would fully appreciate the genius of Dr. Seuss) until I arrived, Goldilocks-like, at just the right choice: R.L. Stine’s “Phantom of the Auditorium.”
The only thing that thrilled me more than the story itself was finding a preview for the next book at the end, as well as the order guide for the 23 books that had come before. This was the first major coup of my life. I never collected baseball cards and action figures didn’t last long with three siblings and dogs in the picture. But the books, those were all mine. Acquisition became my sole focus (and soul’s focus?). I didn’t have an allowance growing up so the $3.25 price tag made my eyes bulge. Outside of birthday gifts, the most I had ever saved on my own was $7.
The plan was two-pronged: first, blow my life’s savings for two books and some candy, then get a job. I was staking out on my own, trying to grow up too fast just to maintain my two-Bumps-a-day habit.
Job prospects were bleak. Hat in hand, I went to my parents. I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say I’m pretty sure I got taken to the cleaners like Master P negotiating a rookie contract. Yard work, house work, I did it all. Then on the first of every month I’d beg my mom to take me to the long-defunct Bookstop (after many calls were made to the store to make sure they had in stock and could they possibly hold it for me?). What I didn’t know then was that “Goosebumps” was an insanely popular franchise, peaking with four million in monthly sales. I had to have them by any means necessary.
Through hard labor, two Christmas and birthday cycles, and one letter (“Will there be a ‘Ghost Beach 2?’”) unanswered by the author but answered by time (no), I reached my goal and probably learned valuable life lessons along the way.
I didn’t have the foresight to keep a ranked list of my favorite “Goosebumps” back then, but life is too short for regrets, so I’ll just do my best to channel my elementary school self and offer my 10 favorites from the 62-volume OG collection.
1. “Phantom of the Auditorium” – Being the first book in the series I read, it’s also the one that hooked me, which means it’s the one with the strongest emotional ties.
2. “Ghost Beach” – The book that prompted me to write the author and one I thought was the best. A group of kids are on vacation, and there’s a haunted cave. Children rightfully get no input to where family vacations take them, and as a result even the beach can seem like a chore. For a 12-year-old, it’s a new frontier for adventure.
3. “Bad Hare Day” – The terrifying bunny on the cover is the reason I’ve never found bunnies adorable.
4. “Say Cheese and Die” – Notable for the fact that the nefarious camera is responsible for people dying, yet no one in this story dies. Kids in peril, combined with themes of free will, is ripe storytelling material that tends to come up often.
5. “Night of the Living Dummy” – Ventriloquist dummies are creepy, we all know this. The insistence of ventriloquists that the dummies are real keeps this idea from ever going away.
6. “Beast from the East” – The stakes are as high as they can get in these books (kids can be eaten by the beasts) when children get lost in the woods and have to play tag against beasts. The fact that the kids are stuck playing a new game at the end is surprisingly bleak.
7. “Deep Trouble” – Hammerhead sharks for the boys, mermaids for the girls—what more could one ask for?
8. “You Can’t Scare Me” – Anytime a piece of entertainment featured a character named “Eddie” I instantly liked it more, despite the fact that “Eddies” don’t tend to fare well.
9. “Cuckoo Clock of Doom” – Time travel is always a compelling idea, and that’s no different here, even if the travel-mechanism is a cuckoo clock (of doom).
10. “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” – Who hasn’t imagined the shenanigans that these things get into when the sun goes down?