A Short History of "Choose Your Own Adventure"
Click here for Dr. Stephen Future's "Golden Path Review, PART ONE"
Click here for Miracle Jones' "Golden Path Review, PART TWO"
Click here for Goodman Carter's "Golden Path Review, PART THREE"
Click here for Xerxes Verdammt's "Golden Path Review, PART FOUR"

Elementary school had a weekly trip to the library built into it. At my school, there was a rotation: one day you did gym, one day you did music, one day you did computers, one day you did art, and then one day you did library.

A budding stylite even in youth, I mainly ignored the reading habits of the other children, because they had terrible taste, and we diverged so wildly that there was not even a question about making "book friends."

I would be picking up another John Bellairs book, or maybe something involving the elusive Waldo (for the art; I knew where he was and still do), and they would be making a beeline for the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" volumes, or fighting like cultists over the battered "Choose Your Own Adventure" books that had been checked out so many times they each had glossy plastic covers that had been manufactured with packing tape by the provident and virginal librarian.

Everybody read those damn books. Even Gatlin White, the scraggly, toenail-biting hulk who tendered and maintained his illiteracy like a prize bonsai tree read "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when his signature was not entered into the "caution book" in red, thereby banning him from checking out a selection.

I took them as a matter of course, like Sesame Street and Sunday mass, but I did leaf through them every now and then, and I remember being annoyed at the seeming arbitrariness of the blind choice-and-consequences protocol (I preferred "Lone Wolf," you see, but that is a story for another time).

You remember those books, just as well as I do. According to studies, girls read them more than boys did, but then again, girls read everything more than boys did.

But where the hell did those books come from, and WHY did they happen? Were they inevitable? Are they still inevitable?

Evidently, the idea came from a guy named Edward Packard, who stole it from a haunted Frenchman named Raymond Queneau who was a fucking surrealist mathematician and friend of Robert Desnos and Georges Bataille. Packard took Queneau's ideas for shapeless second-person story-dynamics-as-Hegelian-dialectic and instead wrote a book for kids called "Sugarcane Island" with the same basic mechanics.

Raymond Queneau:

A reprint of Edward Packard's "Sugarcane Island":

Packard tried to sell his idea all over town, like a man with a suitcase full of wacky dildos: everyone laughed and held them up to gawk, but no one was laying down cash.

Finally, this guy Ray Montgomery from Vermont said: "sure kid, sounds fun." And they started putting out books called "Adventures of You," which sounds like a bad play that YOU would not go SEE.

From Wikipedia, which is probably true, because why would anybody lie about this crap:

"R.A. Montgomery continued the original 'Adventures of You' at Crossroads, writing and publishing Journey Under the Sea in 1977. Upon selling his interest in the press in 1978, Montgomery brought the series to Bantam Books who was interested in starting a children's book division. Montgomery signed a contract with Bantam for six books in 1978, and invited Ed Packard and another writer, Doug Terman, to collaborate by contributing books to the series."

And shazaam, the second-person narrative craze targeted at the children of the 1980s and 90s was born. Bantam struck motherfucking gold. I suspect Bantam delivered these books to the nation's elementary school libraries by the crate, probably as a result of some government subsisidizing-kickback deal we will never know about.

Between 1979 and 1998 when the series flat-lined, Bantam put out 180 titles, putting out more than 250 million flimsy, dinky books with big print in over 38 languages. How many whores did those adventures buy for Packard and Montgomery? How much coke, how many non-disclosure agreements? How many trips by balloon to the Sahara, and how many tickets to see death duels by magical Tibetan monks?

I guess the books weren't all awful. There are actually some devoted fans out there, and the books evidently did allow some play with their aesthetic restrictions. According to lore:

"One book, "Inside UFO 54-40," revolved around the search for a paradise that no one can actively reach; one of the pages in the book describes the player finding the paradise and living happily ever after, although none of the choices in the book led to that page. The ending could only be found by disregarding the rules and going through the book at random. Upon finding the ending, the reader is congratulated for realizing how to find paradise."

I guess there's something to that. Teaching kids to uh, cheat, and that paradise can only be found by reading at random and paying no attention to plot or consequences. Paradise. See you there, everybody.

Is the series dead? It is not. It is now in the hands of a company called "Chooseco." I hope that they donate handsomely to Planned Parenthood every quarter. That is a name that must be earned, in my opinion.

You need to read this crawl. TO REMEMBER.

According to an article for Publisher's Weekly, Montgomery and his wife have revived the series and given it a hip, fresh international focus. They have cherry-picked best-selling titles and updated them:

"The stories are set all over the world," says Montgomery. "And some take place in countries where the political situation has changed through revolutions or civil wars. We've changed the novels to depict that new reality."

Really? So I guess "Darfur Rodeo Days" won't be the same book it was when I was a kid. That's a shame.

Additionally, Montgomery has put out "Choose Your Own Adventure: The Golden Path," which is "an illustrated, interactive seven-book fantasy epic starring eight continuing characters." AND (get your credit card ready), these books are packaged with a COLLECTIBLE CARD GAME, which I guess you can use to hack into the adventures of other yous who are also choosing their own adventure, in order to become the most you of all yous.

I hang my head. I do not understand, and I never did.

I guess for me the fun thing about literature is getting to know other people besides myself, and the horror of the CYOA phenomenon is that it keeps kids in a suspended state of egocentric puling and obsession, giving them total control over the imagination of someone else -- a writer -- in a way that is graphically, deeply upsetting.

Is it an adventure if you can restart from the beginning and "fix" it?

Or is it a game you can win?

Literature is not a game you can win.

You always lose!

Posted by miracle on Fri, 07 Mar 2008 20:13:39 -0500 -- permanent link

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