By Kay Wicker
One thing I miss about high school—believe me it’s a very short list—is that I had the time to read for leisure. Seriously though, I used to read on average three books a month if I was taking my time. I miss being able to curl up around 9p.m. and fall asleep reading. Now, I’m lucky if I can finish my homework before 1a.m.; all the while I’m staring at books on my bookshelf with sad, un-cracked spines. In my third year of college I’ve finally found the cure to this almost impossible thirst for literature. The trick isn’t budgeting our time to fit in gorgeous novels, it’s throwing novels out the window completely. Not forever, but for now. Instead focusing our attention to short works. Much shorter works.
Works of poetry, short story collections, plays, magazines, essay collections, and my new favorite, you’re going to laugh, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. I know what you’re thinking: Uh, Kay…I’m not ten. But wait, before you discredit me as an intelligent young adult, I must tell you that there is a surge of young adult and adult CYOA books. Okay so maybe not a surge, but it is definitely a growing trend.
I first got turned on to grown up CYOA books when I found “Pretty Little Mistakes” by Heather McElhatton in an Urban Outfitters a few years ago. It had been so long since I’d seen a CYOA book that I was honestly baffled by the description.
After the first glance into the book, I remember reading it furiously for weeks on end. The scenarios I kept finding myself in varied from amazing to absolutely absurd. I was so amused to find this childhood novelty had gotten a college-kid makeover. Instead of choosing between running into the dark cave or climbing the tree to hide from a lion, I found myself tasked with the decision of whether or not I should drop acid with a professor or study with a hot TA. “Pretty Little Mistakes” was followed by “Million Little Mistakes” and quite a few other books have taken a cue from McElhatton. “Escape from Fire Island!” is another extremely popular CYOA book for adults that is extremely heavy on the absurd.
Recently I broke “Mistakes” out during a party and it actually became a very lively and very involved game. Whenever I’m bored or down on my creativity level, I flip it open and test my literary fate. What makes “Mistakes” so appealing is the snarky absurd and abruptly harsh rendering of the little scenarios. It’s childish but in away that is smart and enticing. Just like with the classic CYOA books, the story is over when your life is, or when there’s nothing left for your character to experience, which you could argue are one in the same.
The classic CYOA books we all know and love are also making a come back, according to the classic seris’ website. They got their official start in the late 1970s by a writer named R.A. Montgomery who’s goal was to create a role-playing game in book form that would be interactive like role-play but informative and appealing to young children, hence the books always featuring extremely outlandish adventures that are generally themed to things like outer space or under the sea. It took some time for the books to get their acclaim but by the 80s they were a hit witht children. In the late 90s they started to fall out of print until recently when interest in them started to pick up again. Not only can fans of the novelty series buy hardcopies of their beloved adventure books, but they can download them for their tablets too.
I think in trying to pinpoint what about this genre still reasonates with us even today, nothing quite sums it up like McElhatton’s author’s note:
“As you read through the book you’ll sometimes land in completely unique places and sometimes end up right where you were before. Try not to turn back. You never know what life has in store for you. Remember, good behavior is not necessarily rewarded, and sometimes bad decisions can lead to wonderful (and not so wonderful) results. When you’ve reached the end of your journey, go back to the beginning and start over again, because everybody deserves a second chance—and everybody could always be somebody else.” Now, you have just read this article if you choose to A read about False Foundations go to page 5. If you choose B to read about this go to page this…or turn a random page and see where life takes you!