Hahaha remember when I said I would continue updating about my vacation while it was happening? Yeah, total lie. Turns out that once you start actually hanging out and having fun on your vacation, you don’t want to sit on your computer and blog. Go figure. But I am home, back and better than ever, just in time to bring you a Top 5 Wednesday!
This is something I feel is weirdly pretentious about saying, but when I was a kid, I didn’t play video games. I didn’t do sports. I didn’t play on playgrounds and swing and go down the slides. When I was a kid, I was constantly doing one of three things: watching movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching, performing frighteningly involved Lord of the Rings LARPs in my backyard, or reading books.
(Did any of y’all have AR books when you were in elementary school? I lived off those things. What you did was, you read a book with an AR sticker on it, then you took a quiz on it, and then… well, honestly, I still don’t really know the point of those quizzes, but my point was, I loved them to death. And I was always incredibly depressed when books I wanted to read weren’t AR books.)
But that’s enough strolling down memory lane. Let’s get to the top five, shall we?
Not only is Holes one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, to this day, it’s also tied with The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the best book-to-movie adaptation of all time.
Holes is the story of a lad named Stanley Yelnats who is falsely sent to a correctional camp for ‘stealing’ a pair of shoes that just so happened to fall on his head. Once in the camp, he realizes that his story, the camp’s past, and the story of another camper, the mysterious and quiet Zero, are all interconnected into an epic tale. Everything about this book is perfect to me, from its characters, to its dialogue, to the tangled web of its plot that somehow comes out perfectly fitting by the end of the story.
When I was younger, I pretended they let girls into Camp Green Lake as well, and begged my mother to buy me a hideous orange baseball cap to wear backwards like Stanley. I gave myself a nickname (Witch, of course, because I was a rather single-minded child) and went to dig holes in the backyard, which, of course, got me into a lot of trouble. I also had a large number of plastic lizards that all got garish yellow spots by the time I was finished with them. It was an exasperating time for Kell’s house.
And as I said, the movie was perfect, too. As I’m writing this, I’m longing to go watch it again. The only aspect that wasn’t a mirror-image of the book was the fact that Stanley didn’t begin the movie overweight, but I mean, it would have been both impossible and unhealthy for them to have Shia LaBeouf gain and lose all that weight in the time it took to film the movie, so I find this forgivable.
2. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, yes. The books that turned me into the creepy little psycho I am today. This series consisted of various urban legends and scary stories (duh) retold by Alvin Schwartz and accompanied with eerie illustrations by Stephen Gammell. They varied from creepy and witty to genuinely disturbing; Goosebumps was all well and good, but they still all had an underlying silliness that I sometimes lost patience with.
These, however, were genuinely terrifying, and some of them ended without any explanation to the horrifying events within them, which to me, only made them more terrifying. Why the fuck was that lady with stringy hair hovering over my bed? We just don’t know. Which means it could be for any reason. Which means it could happen at any time. Tonight, even. Horrifying! And the mix of stories, poems, and songs kept things interesting and varied.
And, of course, what would I be doing if I didn’t mention the art? The artwork that haunted hundreds of children’s nightmares for years to come, the art that inspired hundreds more to make their art spookier and spookier as they grew up. By far the story that freaked me out the most was the one about the guy flashing his high beams at the chick driving in front of him because there was a guy squatting in the back seat ready to kill her. I remember riding in the car with my mom while reading it and a tangible chill going down my spine.
3. A Series of Unfortunate Events
We all knew this one was coming, didn’t we? I mean, I’m willing to bet this is on half of these lists, and that’s because these books had such an impact on my generation. In case you somehow skipped these as a child, they’re about three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who find themselves orphaned after a fire destroys their home. They’re passed from caretaker to caretaker, all of them horrible (with the exception of good old Uncle Monty, of course), while slowly realizing that the Baudelaire fire was no accident, and their parents weren’t who they thought they were.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but to me, the draw of these was the fact that I didn’t feel as if I was being spoken down to, as both a child and an advanced reader for my age. Lemony Snicket knew that kids understood a lot more than adults gave them credit for, and he used that both in the stories themselves and in his writing. He taught us words without making us feel dumb that we didn’t know them. He showed us some of the darker parts of life, like death, grief, abuse, and he taught us that we can survive all of that, even if life keeps throwing them at us. The age differences of the Baudelaire orphans did a lot for that, too, speaking for three different generations (well, two, more realistically, since kids Sunny’s age probably can’t read them just yet).
Netflix’s current series based on it is also doing a pretty dang good job adapting it, although I didn’t think the movie was all that bad. It had Meryl Streep in it, for crying out loud! In any event, I think these books have possibly the most reread value of any of the books I read as a kid, if not only because the language isn’t childish and pandering, and I hope kids keep reading it even though it’s over.
4. Edgar and Ellen
Speaking of A Series of Unfortunate Events, let’s talk about the series everyone thinks is a blatant ripoff of it! Which, for the record, I really don’t understand. Edgar and Ellen are as different from the Baudelaire children as is humanly possible, the only similarity being that they happen to be orphans. The art is much more Tim-Burton-esque than Brett Helquist’s, so it’s not even the art that inspires the accusation.
While the Baudelaire orphans were left so because their parents died in a fire, Edgar and Ellen’s parents simply… took off one day, probably because they realized their children were terrifying sociopaths. The two little demons now live alone in their huge house overlooking a cemetery, with a weird mop looking creature of indeterminate species and gender called simply Pet. Let’s get one thing straight, these kids are little assholes. In the first book, they kidnap everyone’s pets and make them look like weird freak show animals to get people to pay to see them. Genius assholes, but assholes all the same.
Don’t get me wrong, these books aren’t the pinnacle of good children’s literature, but I was ten when they came out, and I liked spooky things, and they were fun. So, not quite as packed full of meaning as ASOUE, but an enjoyable read all the same.
Here we are, the pinnacle of my childhood. While A Series of Unfortunate Events and Holes did a lot of molding for future me, and Goosebumps was more just for fun, it’s by far what I read most often as a kid. It inspired me to write my own spooky stories, even, although back then, I don’t suppose they were very good.
Do I even really need to explain what the Goosebumps books are? I feel like they’re so integrated into pop culture that they warrant no explanation whatsoever. But, for the sake of uniformity between bullet points, I’ll say that they’re a series of standalone (for the most part) scary stories, varying from quite seriously terrifying (The Haunted Mask, Night of the Living Dummy) to just silly and weird (My Hairiest Adventure, Chicken Chicken). When the new millennium came around, they released a series called Goosebumps 2000, which had some gems, too, as well as some choose-your-own-adventure stories called Give Yourself Goosebumps, which leaned slightly on the goofier side, although the covers were pretty damn awesome.
When I was a child, I briefly became obsessed with the Goosebumps 2000 book Cry of the Cat, because it was spooky but also involved cats. A match made in heaven for young Kell. My dad decided to take advantage of my constant reading of it and purchase a pair of walky talkies, hiding one under my bed and making demonic cat noises into the other one. In other words, there’s a reason nothing scares me now; I got all of that weeded out of me when I was a kid.
And that’s it for Top 5 Wednesday this week! Join us next week for… something else!