Earlier this year I kicked off a new category intended to be about blasts from library shelves past because I love revisiting old childhood books (I noticed Jezebel just started a review of ‘80s YA lit). But as frequently happens, life sidetracks me and I don’t get to all the subjects I’d like to.
Last week I was skimming through a section of a shelf in my bedroom with kids’ paperbacks. Tucked in between novelized versions of It’s Your Move and My Bodyguard was Going Out! Going Steady! Going Bananas! The Bananas Dating Guide by Jovial Bob Stine (a 1979 classic that I didn’t originally possess but bought on Valentine’s Day 1999 at a thrift store on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border).
I love that wacky late 70s-early‘80s Dynamite magazine humor and Bob Stine (along with his wife Jane who frequently shared a byline) was the master of schlocky, silly Scholastic books you could mail-order through school like The Sick of Being Sick Book. I also subscribed to Children’s Digest (much less funny than Dynamite) some Girl Scout magazine that pissed me off by addressing their publication to Mr. Kristo Garcia and grown-up but nerdy, Games, which I had no idea was still in business and with the same ‘80s font.
Bananas was the humor magazine intended for teens (Hot Dog was for littler kids) so I never subscribed. It seemed a little too old for me, like it was of an era I’d just missed out on, similar to hearing bands like Rush, Kiss or Pink Floyd when I was more attuned to Hall & Oates. That was the kind of music a male babysitter would be into (yes, I had a few boy sitters, and they most definitely weren’t mannies).
Even though I lived through a majority of the ‘70s, I feel more affinity for the ‘80s. However, that doesn’t mean I want to listen to music from the decade while trying to have a good time. (Which brings up New Year’s Eve speculation—I’ve been inexplicably angered with parties for at least the past three years when Nu Shooz or Michael Jackson start playing. Right now my only options are—well, staying out of Williamsburg is a given—leaving town or hosting my own ‘80s-free party.)
I couldn’t help but wonder whatever became of Jovial Bob Stine. The whole jokey, zany aesthetic seems totally incongruous to demanding fickle tastes of ‘90s and ‘00s youth. How does a YA author stay relevant? I figured he’d faded into obscurity. So, I Googled him…and what the fuck? Jovial Bob Stine is R.L. Stine?! That guy is totally a gazillionaire. The Goosebumps and Fear Street series were insane successes.
I only know this peripherally because by the time these books came out I was an adult who didn’t read kiddie lit anymore. I still refuse to read Harry Potter. Obviously the switch from humor to horror was the right move. In his online bio he even notes the demarcation, “In 1986, R.L. turned scary!” He was 46 before he hit his professional stride, so perhaps there’s hope for all the flounderers of the world.