Sunday, October 11, 2009


Goosebumps are a physiological response to an uncomfortable situation. Tiny muscles at the base of hair follicles tighten, forcing the hairs to stand upright, and the follicle to bulge slightly producing the bumpy look. This reflex doesn't provide any noticeable benefits to modern humans, but perhaps at sometime in our past we had more hair and tensing our hair muscles made us look bigger or provided better insulation against injury or cold. All animals with hair can get goosebumps, but it is perhaps more noticeable in animals with feathers, like geese (hence the name goosebumps).

Goosebumps are perhaps most well known as a responsive to fear, and as such have lent their name to an extremely successful series of children's books by author R.L. Stine.

I'm pretty sure I never read any of these books growing up, but I have seen a few of the TV adaptions. I normally don't make a habit of reading children's books, but I have found them to be an useful tool when learning foreign languages. When trying to improve my Spanish, I read Isabel Allende's Las memorias del Ɓguila y el Jaguar series, as well Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, and now in attempting to improve my French, I have turned to Monsieur Stine's Chair de Poule series.

Goosebumps are also called goose flesh in English, and in French they are called chicken flesh, or more accurately hen flesh, chair de poule. Having never read the English versions, I cannot make any comparisons, but the few that I have read in French are quite entertaining. And more importantly they are short (120 page small paperbacks on average), and do not use overcomplicated language or slang.

I've tried to read more "mature" books in French, but that usually ends up being more frustrating than entertaining or educational, especially given my recent preference for authors like William Gibson, Khaled Hosseini, Dan Brown, and Cormack McCarthy. It's very frustrating to read, extremely slowly, through many chapters of a book and then realize you must have horribly misunderstood something earlier because nothing is making much sense anymore, so I've resigned myself to children's books for the time being, and the Goosebumps series was the first I came across in the Library.

Public book readings are still common here, authors are treated with much respect, there are more bookstores per capita than most cities I have been too, and the libraries are always packed. They even have a TV show here that is just a host (usually a beautiful woman) reading for hours, so the French probably rank quite high in any "literary" rankings.

I do a lot of reading at the park, on the subway, or in other public areas, so a grown man reading Goosebumps books solicits quite a few strange looks here. I think maybe I should make excuses like "I am just reading them so I can discuss them with my kids" or lying that I am an aspiring children's book author myself, but in the end I just kinda smile meekly and bury my head in my book. Maybe after a few more Goosebumps books I will speak French well enough to pull of the aspiring author lie.


Scott McArthur said...

That sounds like a great way to learn a language!

michael said...

I am not much of a fan of Bande dessinee (basically graphic novels with a huge japanese manga influence), but it seems like a really good method too. The writing is very conversational, and of course you have pictures to aid in understanding. I'm starting to get a little tired of the goosebumps books, so I might try to find an interesting comic series to get into.

Anonymous said...

That's an awesome tip -- I'm hoping to become better at French and I'll definitely try to snag a children's book while in France. Also, Goosebumps books were one of my favorite things to read as a kid. It was a huge deal when my town's library got a new one.