When We Fell In Love by Scott Spinelli
I can actually pinpoint the exact book. Somehow (I imagine my mom had something to do with it as I didn’t have a license or job of any kind at age seven), I was introduced to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series but it was specifically Attack of the Mutant.
I have no idea what the book was about (I’d venture a guess about an easily resolved plot involving a mutant terrorizing a neighborhood), but I do remember running up the stairs in our house, directly into my room. I had been tearing through the pages in the car and didn’t want to waste even a second talking to my brothers or father. My room was where I could find quiet, I knew this, and so I sprinted there as fast as I could.
In what I felt had to be a world record, I finished the book in two hours. Obviously in retrospect, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that the first time I remember loving to read it was a Goosebumps book. Even more so, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that I felt proud that I sped through this book, as if I was crushing Ulysses.
Other members of this series have cited some truly impressive authors and works—Alix Ohlin with Louisa May Alcott and Alice Munro, David Abrams with Updike’s Rabbit, Run, or many others with A Clockwork Orange. I went with R.L. Stine, sue me.
And so, from around seven up until high school I actually really liked reading (yes mom, that’s true). I devoured any Goosebumps book I could get my hands on. Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach, Danny, the Champion of the World, and The BFG were some of the many that captured my imagination. The fantastical element of boys living in fruit, friendly giants, and cities made of emeralds all appealed to me in a way I can’t fully explain now as I haven’t touched a book not based firmly in reality in a while. Odd side note: I can vividly remember my copy of Oz being the first book I had ever seen with the bookmark attached. It was one of the most clever things I had ever seen and I was certain that only a man who could create that world could dream up such an invention.
Unfortunately, when I got to high school this love was extinguished. I can honestly say that I only read (as in, started and finished without Cliff Notes) three books in high school: The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and Manchild in the Promised Land. Outside of those, I grew to actually hate reading and writing because it was intrinsically linked in my mind to books I couldn’t stand. Why would a high school student want to read an epic about whaling? Or a doomed love story from the early 19th century?
When summer would come around every year, I’d get that whiff of childhood where, once allowed to read freely, I’d enjoy the activity. Without fail each year, Rosh Hashanah would come (as a Jew, it serves the purpose that Memorial Day does for the rest of the world), school would start up again, and back into the “I hate reading” world I’d retreat.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college, some three or four years after the point detailed above, when I discovered a love for writing. I started writing a humor column in my school’s paper, started writing stand-up comedy, started writing for campus magazines. And as I began to write more, I read more.
As time passed, I started to wonder if I could do it. Could I write a book? Did writing well-received shorter pieces and stand-up comedy equate to longer form writing? Did I have the courage, the talent to put together a work that people could relate to, enjoy, laugh with?
Two authors convinced me that I could. One had no idea, the other I met. That first guy was Jonathan Tropper, my adult version of R.L. Stine. A cousin suggested This Is Where I Leave You as a funny, relatable story (for those of you that haven’t read it yet, don’t let the dour opening chapter or so take away from how incredible this novel is). After cruising through that book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the rest of Tropper’s collection.
Then, I was put in touch with Aaron Goldfarb (another WWFIL contributor and the reason I started following 3G1B). Over drinks, he and I talked about a bunch of things, but what stuck most with me was his insistence that in today’s world, when it comes to publishing, “You can either wait for someone to pick you, or you can pick yourself.”
I knew then, after reading the easy yet incredible writing of Tropper and hearing the insightful advice from an author who experienced many of the things I had in Goldfarb, that I could do this.
Writing my first novel over the last four years was a product of that love I first found in the pages of Goosebumps. That feeling when you can’t put it down, when everything else takes a back seat to “just one more chapter”. That’s the love I’m talking about.