Our Reading Lives

Books That Bring the ’80s Nostalgia Are Like a Warm, Fuzzy Blanket

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Yes, I recently watched the latest season of Stranger Things. And yes, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” has been running on a loop in my head.

But even before Stranger Things came into my life, I regularly turned to the ’80s for comfort.

I mean, I was born in 1980. For me, the decade represents dreams and adventure and childhood innocence.

Just ask the disintegrating E.T. doll on my nightstand.

A Hunger for Reboots

In the past decade or so, it seems that everything from my past has gotten the reboot treatment, for better or for worse (usually worse). Twin Peaks. Ghostbusters. Fraggle Rock. I’ve been tuning in with one eye open, cringing in fearful anticipation that my childhood favorites are about to be completely ruined.

Because, goddammit, weren’t Dirty Dancing and Heathers already perfect?

And yet, I watch anyway. I can’t help myself. This pandering to my childhood hooks me because, well, sometimes adulting is hard and sometimes all I want to do is tap into that ease and that sense of possibility that existed back before I got braces and terrible acne and, later, a career.

Film Studies lecturer Matthew Jones tells Cosmopolitan that these reboots happen because audiences already have an emotional attachment to these stories.

“This is not laziness on the part of the production studios,” he insists. “It’s just good, sound financial logic.”

And so, I don my comfy bike shorts and my TerrorVision muscle tee and I pour myself a Cherry Coke and I pull my blanket up to my chin and I lose myself in the latest. And sometimes, happily, my expectations are even surpassed (as was the case with Nate Stevenson’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which managed to elevate the animated superhero princess of my youth).

But to be honest, I don’t have much time for TV or movies anymore. My elementary-age child is always hovering and I’m always working or cooking and, by the evening, I’m so wiped out that all I want to do is crawl in bed with a good book until I fall asleep.

Which is why I really love books that bring those ’80s vibes.

Books That Bring the ’80s Nostalgia Are My Comfort Food

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning - book cover - drawing of a fox-like creature that stands on its hind legs and wears warrior garb, surrounded by n ornate frame

I recently read Josh Winning’s The Shadow Glass, a dark fantasy in which the puppets from a cult favorite fantasy film come alive, threatening London and, perhaps, the world. I picked it up because the cover was giving some strong Dark Crystal vibes and, hell, the premise sounded like fun.

I was quickly sucked into the world of the shadow glass, in which fox-like creatures battle hideous monsters for control over a world that seems to have emerged from the power of imagination alone. Unfortunately, their world is dying and, well, if you’ve ever read or watched The Neverending Story (it was my favorite book when I was growing up), you likely know where this is going.

In the end, what delighted me so much about this book wasn’t the story itself. Though don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the story.

Rather, it was all the references to my favorite flicks from the ’80s, the fact that the book itself was an overt homage to those pieces of pop culture. And it was a love letter, too, to those who love those pieces of their past. The cons. The cosplay. The artist with a secret hideaway filled to the brim with ’80s memorabilia. I was practically squeeing throughout the entire book.

At a time when everything is an absolute shitshow, yes, I want to giggle with recognition at a reference to Falkor. Yes, I want to dig out my E.T. necklace collection and my massive Auryn pendant and gaze upon them lovingly. Hells yes, I want to pretend — even if only for a little while — that the power of imagination can create and sustain new worlds.

Books Are Better Than Reboots. Don’t @ Me.

The Shadow Glass is only one of many reads that have filled me up with that sense of childlike wonder that’s so hard to come by these days.

But there have been others over the years that have done what film and TV reboots cannot: create new storylines and new characters and new worlds that harken back to the ’80s without supplanting already beloved pop culture properties, à la Stranger Things.

cover image of My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

In 2016, Grady Hendrix brought to life My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a YA horror set in the ’80s with a protagonist who has a deep love for E.T. As a fellow lover of both the film and the alien, I was obviously destined to love this book.

But on top of all the ’80s nostalgia, the horror story itself brought me back to a time when I watched The Exorcist in the basement rec room of my youth, shag carpet between my toes, wood paneling along the walls, horror paperbacks on a slim shelf that wrapped around the perimeter of the room. God only knows where my parents were when I decided to watch a film that included a possessed girl masturbating with a crucifix, but they may have given up on me by then. After all, I was already reading John Saul.

In 2017, near the beginning of my love affair with comics, BOOM! Studios put out the limited comic series Misfit City, which leaned heavily on readers’ love of The Goonies (though it’s more than possible to enjoy the series without that cultural touchstone in your back pocket).

The film came out when I was 5 and, when I watched it, there was nothing I wanted more from life than to find a treasure map, stumble upon a secret passageway, and overcome dangerous obstacles in order to find a long-lost pirate ship and save the day.

In Misfit City, based in a town whose claim to fame is that a cult kids’ adventure movie called The Gloomies (buaaahahaha) was filmed there in the ’80s, a group of teens finds an old treasure map, stumbles upon a secret passageway, and overcomes dangerous obstacles in order to find a long-lost treasure. Reading it was like reliving my childhood, not in a way that usurped the original magic of The Goonies, but in a way that was Goonies-adjacent.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry book cover

More recently, I read We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, which seems to show up in all of my posts lately because it has so much going for it.

In this book, a field hockey team turns to witchcraft in order to turn around a long-running losing streak, a storyline that feels somewhat reminiscent of The Craft… a ’90s film, but that’s okay. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, all of this is secondary to the individual story of each girl, each of whom happens to be ’80s-tastic in their own special way, whether via their love of the Brat Pack or their embrace of Aqua Net-reinforced Big Hair. Reading it made me think fondly of the female friendships of yore that shored up my preteen days.

As for my hair choices back then… does anyone remember crimping irons?

Riding This Nostalgia Wave As Long As Possible

Right now, I’m reading Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, which is a coming-of-age story centering around a Black teen whose family spends each summer out in Sag Harbor, a small village in the Hamptons.

The book tackles issues of race and class, but is also rife with casual ’80s references including Pixy Stix, D&D, and New Coke.

As we slide deeper into summer, I find myself enjoying Whitehead’s tale of a young man coming into his own.

And if it also makes me think fondly of summer weekends with the fam down at Wildwood Crest — sandy bathing suits, boogie boards, cotton candy, and boardwalk games — well, that’s just a bonus.

Of course, what brings me back might not bring you back in quite the same way. So, if you’re still hungry for ’80s-esque reads, check out this list of bitpunk books.

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