I’ve always been a collector. My teenage years were defined by collecting all sorts of things, from figurines to manga to pogs (yes, pogs) to Beanie Babies. If it could be collected, odds are at some point it caught my interest.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve done my best to control my collecting impulse (with varying success), mostly to keep my condo from becoming as cluttered as my old bedroom at my Dad’s house. But I have one thing I just can’t give up, no matter how many of them I have: books. This includes books from my childhood.
If I’m not around to help clear out a room in my Dad’s house, he always gets one specific request from me: do not throw out or donate any books until I get a chance to go through them. Most of the other things I’ve collected over the years I no longer want and can be safely sold, donated or thrown out. But I have to go through the books myself.
This attachment to my childhood books came in handy recently. I’m attending BookCon on Saturday, and in preparation for this I went to my Dad’s house on Memorial Day and spent a couple of hours going through boxes in the garage looking for a few specific books. A couple of authors I loved in my childhood are attending BookCon, and the more I thought about one in particular, the more I realized I probably don’t give him enough credit for the influence he’s had on me.
That author is R.L. Stine.
I don’t know many people in my generation who didn’t read at least one Goosebumps book growing up. I think I read most of them through my school’s library or by borrowing them from friends, but I remembered that I owned at least one, because I got it in my Easter basket one year (I was an odd child). So I let my Dad know about a week before Memorial Day that I wanted to dig up some books in case he knew what boxes they would be in (there are a lot of unlabeled boxes in our garage). Goosebumps has been reissued, but I would like to get an original one signed. Luckily, my Dad was able to dig out a couple before I even arrived to go through the boxes.
I read R.L. Stine (and M.D. Spenser, who is not attending BookCon but still bears mentioning because I apparently owned significantly more Shivers books than Goosebumps books) way before I was old enough to pick up a Stephen King book. Yet for some reason I never considered how formative Goosebumps and Shivers must have been for me. It’s possible that without starting with those series, I never would have thought to pick up Carrie or Cujo when I found them in my parents’ book collection when I was older. But for years, Goosebumps faded from my memory (as a lot of my childhood has). Now it seems so obvious that R.L. Stine and M.D. Spenser likely had as much influence on my writing as Stephen King or Richard Matheson. I just read them decades before I decided to try writing horror myself.
But I didn’t only read horror books as a kid. In fact, my favorite series when I was a preteen was Animorphs, and I still have my entire collection of those books (I didn’t even have to dig them out of boxes in the garage). But the other books I was hunting for this past Monday were nothing like Goosebumps or Animorphs. I’m talking about The Baby-sitters Club. (I read an eclectic mix of books as a kid and continue to do so as an adult.) Ann M. Martin is the other author attending BookCon that I remember from my childhood.
Unlike most of the girls I was friends with growing up, I never ended up babysitting regularly outside of watching my sister from time to time. Yet at one point my sister and I had nearly 50 Baby-sitters Club books that we had inherited from an older cousin. And I read them all and liked them a great deal—despite the series title, they’re about more than just babysitting. They were a nice change from the Goosebumps, Animorphs and Shivers books because they often dealt with issues immediately relevant to my preteen and early teen life. Sometimes I wanted to read about saving the world or stopping a scary monster, and other times I wanted to know how to deal with having a fight with my best friend.
Despite that I know we had a vast collection of these books, it took me almost the entire two-and-a-half hours I was at my Dad’s looking through boxes to find one Baby-sitters Club book. I have no idea where the other ones went; they may yet be buried in boxes in the garage. But I only need one book to get signed, and again I’m glad I found one of the original ones instead of having to buy a reissued one. There’s just a certain nostalgia attached to finding the copy you actually read instead of buying a new copy of a book.
Even though it took me awhile to find the book I had gone to find, I had a lot of fun going through the other boxes. In the end, I put most of the books back for the time being. But I did pull out a couple of surprise gems, including Catwings, which I had no recollection of owning, and a couple of books that had been signed by various authors when they had visited my school or local bookstores when I was a kid. Someday I’ll have all those beloved books on my shelves here at my condo. I have great introductory science and nature textbooks that I remember my Grandpa giving me and my sister, and a wonderful collection of picture books that my parents used to read to me. In the meantime, it was fun to take a little trip back to my childhood as remembered through the books I loved.