Diana has long been a fan, via a
heartfelt first start from her father, of the Choose Your Own Adventure
series. These are books that her dad loved in his youth, and I had no
experience of. I vaguely remember a prescient history teacher (does that make
sense?) in 8th grade telling us that "vast technological
changes were happening that we going to allow readers to actually
participate in the stories they read…" but I remember thinking (in
For those unfamiliar with them, these books are sort of interactive
metafiction adventure stories set in the second person, so they begin,
"You are in Osaka, where you are furthering your study of Aikido, with
your good friend Nada." It will continue for a few pages in this vein
(with notes at the bottom like "Continue to the next page. or Turn to
page 17, which are necessary given their insane narrative and
structural demands) until you get to your first choice: If you want to
go back in time immediately, turn to page 24. If you want to be put
into a trance, turn to page 37.
When Diana started going for them, I didn't think much about it other
than to appreciate the groovy 70s covers and to have my mind briefly
blown by a mispaginated one about the Titanic. One wrong page number in
those babies and all bets are off.
Then this past weekend, Chestnut, who seems as partial to realistic
fiction and heartfelt, earnest storytelling as Diana is to fantasy and
alternate worlds, asked me to read this as she was heading to bed (yes,
there has been a remission for the formerly close-to-death practice of
reading people bedtime stories).
She brought me into things because she had made a choice on one of
the pages that led her somewhere she really didn't want to go, so she
wanted us to start back at the beginning. And as we started reading, I
realized that these books were basically attacking everything I
understand and hold dear as a reader. Here, my concerns:
1) It's too much responsibility! I know I make the wrong choices all
the time in life, why do I have to be reminded of that—and do it all
I want to know which one is the real story. My dearly-held (if slightly
whacked-out) belief is that all fiction came from some stream of stories
in another world, where they all exist intact. If they don't get told
well, they're false, false to their origin, false to their alternate existence. Which disturbs the universe
in some deep invisible way. Yeah, I know, I know. This might not be
3) I feel judged. "Are you going to turn back because you're feeling
nervous, or take out your sword and fight?" I mean, really, I feel a
bit pushed here. I know which is the cooler thing to do certainly, but
why must I make this decision? Isn't that the author's job?
4) It resists narrative drive. I want to get swept along. This is not possible when you are doing the sweeping.
I can't help thinking the whole time, But how do they manage this
manuscript? I mean, really? Is there a program for this? Some sort of
mathematical formula? How do they get all the pages in the right order? Which doesn't help me enjoy the story all that
Clearly, this is a question of taste. And/or cherished beliefs. But
as much as I am trying to be a good and fair person by saying that, in
my heart I think these books are sort of, um, wrong. Which belief is in and of itself wrong. The whole thing leaves me
feeling slightly out-of-step with the rest of my metafictional family.