In my previous article that I hope you had a chance to read, I shared six childhood toys from my youth that I fondly remember, and thankfully still own. This time, I have the pleasure of sharing with you some books that bring back memories as profound as any toy!
“This is the story of The Gift of the Mogwai. You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this…”
Let’s’ Begin Now:
As I started pulling this treasured Read-Along Book out of the safety of its protective plastic bag, it tore at the spine and effectively separating itself from the whole book. It is a sad exhibition of how fragile paper can become after 35 years. An easy fix, but I could almost visualize the adorable Mogwai named Gizmo on the cover shedding a tear as he observed me delicately trying to repair the tragically torn book. Me, a 42-year-old adult, trying to hold my childhood memories together with scotch tape and lots of hope! Sure, I could purchase another book on eBay without having to mortgage the house, and in much better condition than the one that just fell apart in my hands- but darn it- that isn’t the one I owned as a child. This musty smelling one is, and it must be salvaged and preserved.
Read-Along Books were inexpensive substitutes for owning the home video version of the film, which, believe it or not, could easily cost upwards of $30 in 1985. These books included a 7-inch record with word-for-word story narration, dramatic character dialogue, authentic sound effects, and musical backgrounds. Even though the books were about animated features and movies mostly suitable for the entire family, the dialogue wasn’t watered down. It was edited as not be a full-blown 200-page novelization, but the content stayed true to the films. I can still read these short books today to get that quick nostalgia shot, manifesting itself for the world to see as an ear to ear smile and a twinkle in my Lasik-operated eyes.
SEE the pictures, HEAR the record, READ the book!
I’d spend hours reading these books as the narrator guided me through crucial parts of the films I loved but didn’t own. The artwork varied in quality from book to book, but these stories enthralled me to no end. They also kept me from bugging my mom and helped me pass the time in lieu of friends. Got to love that Tinker Bell chime that let you know it was time to turn the page!
Read-Along Books were around since the mid-sixties, but circa 1987, tapes substituted the included seven-inch records. As a child, the simplicity of sitting down with a book containing the written form of the films you loved and having them read to you was a very comforting feeling. There was never a fear of reprimand for not knowing or mispronouncing a word. It was a child’s safety zone, my safety zone.
I also had Big Looker Storybooks from Marvel Books featuring my beloved Transformers and Golden Super Adventure Books with the runner-up GoBots.
Although these didn’t contain a record, for $1.50, you had arguably better-crafted Transformer stories than the animated series that made the franchise a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. In my honest opinion, the Transformer books had beautiful artwork. You can only imagine how a child’s eyes lit up with these books in their hands, just taking everything in. A special shout-out goes out to artists Earl Norem and John Speirs, who did the artwork for these fabulous storybooks.
Exciting Action From The High-Tech World of GoBots-Mighty Robots, Mighty Vehicles!
GoBots hold a special place in my forever nostalgic heart, but they were never like the Transformers. If you had the money, why go with RC Cola if Coca-Cola was available? And no, we’re not going to talk about Pepsi. Yech! The changing from vehicles to robots was less complicated with the GoBots, and the animated show was undoubtedly for an even younger audience than the already juvenile Transformers. The books followed the same pattern of simplicity, with the artwork leaving much to be desired. At the time, the books were inexplicably more expensive too. Of course, they entertained me as a kid, but I could sense the lopsided gulf between the two franchises even at a young age.
Watching Star Wars: Return of The Jedi in theaters in 1983 as a five-year-old was an experience I hope never to forget and forever be able to recall whenever I find myself with “a case of the Monday’s,” and a little down in the dumps. I remember sitting in those huge theater seats (huge to a five-year-old), and witnessing the vile, gangster Jabba The Hutt and his enormous pet Rancor. The Speeder Bike chase scene on the forest moon of Endor was and still is exhilarating. You also had the second and final confrontation between Luke Skywalker and his father, the evil Darth Vader. Plus, the Emperor’s force lightning that sounded like an electricity charged explosion struck me with terror, making me sink into and try to disappear in my seat. These are all memories ingrained in the deepest recesses of my mind.
The Return of the Jedi Giant Collectors Compendium: Heroes, Villains, Creatures and Droids transported me back to the movie theater; stuffing my brain with info about all my favorite characters and providing me an in-depth look at ROTJ before the existence of Star Wars encyclopedias, the extensive Expanded Universe and of course the internet. Inside, I learned about the henchmen’s names in Jabba’s palace: Ephant Mon, Hermi Odle, Elom and his guards Klaatu, and Nikto (no Barada for those The Day the Earth Stood Still and the Evil Dead: Army of Darkness fans). The compendium and a blue plastic ROTJ wallet with R2D2 and C-3PO on the front went with me everywhere. Both have survived all these years, with the compendium still conserving the scotch tape used on numerous occasions to keep it from falling apart (Thank you, mom!). In almost immaculate condition, the vintage wallet remains as I carried it in 1983: without as much as a dollar bill or even a quarter inside. But who needs money when wonderful memories feed and tend to your heart and soul?
I used to be crazy for dinosaurs. They were all I used to think about (that and the Dukes of Hazzard). They ruled the Earth millions of years ago, but they also ruled and possessed my thoughts, dreams, and seemingly controlled my actions at a particular time in my childhood. When the school I attended, Pembroke Pines Elementary in South Florida had a Scholastic book fair, the only books I ordered were about dinosaurs. I also got a cool frogman scuba toy, but that got boring, real quick. Once in the water, it just flopped and turned over and didn’t swim as gracefully as I imagined it would. But back to dinosaurs:
Giant reptiles thundering across the ground we now live on, with their fossils possibly buried underneath our feet. Dinosaurs became my gateway to fictional giant creatures known as Kaiju, like Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, and the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah. What could be cooler than a dinosaur? A dinosaur named Godzilla that could breathe nuclear fire, of course! C’mon, Stick with me here!
My earliest memories of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life involved me becoming either a Paleontologist, Archaeologist (thanks to the Indiana Jones), or a combination of both. My love for dinosaurs waned when Jurrasic Park was released in theaters in 1993. Honestly, I can’t recall what I was into by then, probably sports, wrestling, and Super Nintendo, but it wasn’t dinosaurs anymore. If I were, I’d probably be somewhere in Arizona dusting off fossils with a little brush while wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect me from the infernal sun. Or down in the jungles of Central America not drinking the water, and unearthing ancient Mayan pyramids and not telling you about any of this. So, in that sense, I’m pleased I didn’t follow that path.
As I carefully handle the now frail book published in 1985, hoping it doesn’t suffer the same fate as The Gift of the Mogwai, I’m transported back to a time when pro wrestling was all too real for me.
Kayfabe: The term used to describe the illusion that professional wrestling is not staged, i.e., REAL.
Is wrestling fake? Well, no, but it isn’t easy to explain what that means. Is it predetermined? Yes. Was it amazing in the ’80s? You better believe your power slam it was! In 1985, the book Wrestling Superstars, written by Daniel and Susan Cohen, made it all seem legit like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, and Inside Wrestling magazines presented the grappling game. How could a seven-year-old doubt a magazine, or a book? Could a book’s contents be filled with lies? I acquired this gem at a Winn-Dixie supermarket checkout lane after begging my mom to buy it for me. The cover features color photos of Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik, Sergeant Slaughter, and Wendi Richter plus promising “action packed photos” inside! Unfortunately, the images inside are a dismal black and white.
“It’s hot. It’s chic. It’s hip. It’s now. It’s the sports spectacle sensation of the ‘80s. What is it? Why, it’s professional wrestling, of course!” -Opening sentence for Wrestling Superstars by Daniel and Susan Cohen.
The book contains over 30 wrestlers and divides them into Good Guys and Bad Guys. There is a small separate section about women’s wrestling and an even smaller one covering the sport’s legends, famous venues, organizations, and magazines. The biographies within walk a tightrope between truth and embellished fictional accounts that wrestling is renowned for.
Not yet familiar with wrestling magazines and no internet for at least a decade, this book became my wrestling bible. I poured through the pages learning “insider information” about the stars I loved and those I loved to hate as the book proclaims on the back cover. A couple of months ago, I was shocked to find out there is actually a volume 2! Worth $5 plus shipping, don’t you think?
Thanks for reading! My other articles for Pop Culture Retrorama are here, and if you enjoy old school wrestling, you can read my work for Pro Wrestling Stories here.