Sunday, August 23, 2015

At Flashbak: Choose Your Own Adventure Books -- Be the Star of Your Story

Also at Flashbak this week, I gazed at the Choose Your Own Adventure Books of the late 1970s and early 1980s (as well as their knock-offs).

"In the early years of the 1980s, Bantam Books published a book franchise titled Choose Your Own Adventure aimed at readers between the ages of ten and fourteen.

These books featured multiple endings, and multiple paths for the reader, and, in a very real way, therefore told a variety of stories in each volume. "You're the star of the story!" the book line’s covers declared.  Readers were implored to "choose from 40 possible endings!"

By the end of the decade, the Choose Your Own Adventure Books had sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Choose Your Own Adventure books were perhaps as much a game as a legitimate literary experience, but titles like The Abominable Snowman (28 possible endings!) offered intrepid readers the chance to move between alternate or parallel realities by deciding which "action" to take given any particular scenario. For instance, if you chose to go into a dark cave without a flashlight, you would turn to page 68...and promptly fall off the edge of a precipice.

Or if you decided to "go back to camp" for your flashlight, you would end on an entirely different (and hopefully more life-sustaining) path.

I recall reading these books during my early middle school years and really enjoying them. To my adolescent mind, the narratives felt genuinely suspenseful because every action had an immediate impact...sometimes deadly. Because I had a keenly developed sense of the macabre even at that tender age, I would often pick the wrong solution, just so I could experience a terrifying demise.

Not surprisingly, the popular movie/TV genre franchises of the day imitated the Choose Your Own Adventure format. Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark jump to mind, and to me, this development was absolute nirvana: the chance to send Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock or Indiana Jones into adventures where I could determine the outcome."

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