Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure!

Rainy days, car rides, or sleepy afternoons are the perfect opportunities for adventure. There were days when I would crawl out of bed with my mother's hand-quilted covers wrapped around me like a cocoon. I would run my fingers along the spines of the few books I had collected in grammar school, already bent and dirty from too much love. I could hear by brother waking up in the next room. Smiling to myself, I plucked a particular book and dashed into his room, most likely to jump on his bed and pummel him (playfully, of course), until he agreed to play a game with me.

Even for my brother, who hated to read, there was a certain type of book he was loath to pass up reading. They're called, I think, Choose You Own Adventure books or simply gamebooks. Are you familiar with them?

These are books you can't read from cover to cover. You, the reader, are the main character of the story - meaning, the whole book is written in second person point of view (incredibly impressive). Your job is to follow the directions at the bottom of each page, telling you which page to turn to next, or, even better, making you decide between two different paths. You're in the forest a night and you hear a twig break behind you. Keep walking to the cabin and ignore the noise? Turn to page 26. Pull your baseball bat out of your backpack and go find out who made the noise? Turn to page 134.

My first exposure to these types of books was through R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series. My brother was the great collector of the series... by default. He hated reading The Boxcar Children, so relatives looking for a great gift would run out and buy Goosebumps books for him instead. He didn't read them, though, unless someone did it for him, haha.

When we did stumble upon the "Give Yourself Goosebumps" series, it was hard to say no to a tantalizingly new way to play with books. The holographic cover, with it's freaky pictures, were as appealing to our eyes as rare Pokemon cards. The two of us would park it on a couch or on one of our beds and take turns reading the pages out loud. We would often argue about what page to turn to when it came time to make a decision - it was always important to choose the right page. Making the wrong decision could result in a "bad ending," meaning that you'd find yourself either transformed, trapped, or most likely dead by unfortunate circumstances. In order to avoid the bad ending, I think everyone has cheated. At least once. Cheating, meaning, holding the pages with your fingers or bookmarks so that, if you get a bad ending, you can go back and choose the right one. I'm so guilty of this. When I opened one of books in order to write this post, I saw I still had post-it notes still stuck inside the front cover flap - at the ready! Haha!

My favorite bad ending ever is from book one of the series called Escape from the Carnival of Horrors. If you somehow end up on that side of the carnival (the one with the rides, not the midway), you may end up facing the Doom Slide. You are given a series of at least five or six choices on this one. You have no choice but to pick a slide - but which one? If you choose the wrong numbered slide, you might end up sliding for all eternity! Ahh! I won't tell you which one is the never ending slide, but I will give you an idea of what happens. This is an excerpt from that page; I typed it up because I really wanted indenting, haha (and I won't cite the page number for obvious reasons):

Whew! *shivers* I was wildly scared of this ending, every time. I couldn't image what it would be like to do anything forever. My grown-up brain is wondering exactly how long it would take for me to burn a hole through my pants, and if, since I'd be sliding all eternity, I would have a butt at all by the time I died. Painful. What would happen if I decided to end it sooner, or see if I could escape somehow by rolling off or propelling myself off the slide? Would the slide just double-back and catch me as I fell, or would I fall forever? If I got bored, could I have a conversation with the voice that told me I'm doomed? This may be why I love this ending so much - it makes me think.

In researching a bit for this post, I'm shocked to discover that Stine wrote forty-two of these books. Oh my gosh. I had always hoped to collect all of these books, but now my dream is dashed against the side of a craggy cliff. I guess I should be happy with what I have:

#1 Escape from the Carnival of Horrors
#2 Tick Tock, You're Dead!
#3 Trapped in Batwing Hall
#4 The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eek
#15 Please Don't Feed the Vampire

Judging by the numbers, you can see that we must have gotten them around the time they were first being released. Why the jump to #15? Well, I just found Please Don't Feed the Vampire a few weeks ago at a small shop. It was very exciting, haha.

On a less spooky note, I found an old book that works the same way as these Goosebumps books do. It's called The Magic of the Unicorn by Deborah Lerme Goodman. The illustrations are beautiful; I'm looking at it right now, wishing I could read it for the first time. I'm actually two books away from finishing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, so I'm banning myself from starting anything new before then (I'm a chronic multi-reader). Because if this delay, I'll type out the blurb for Goodman's book:

"Only a unicorn's horn can purify the water in your medieval village - so you set off to find a unicorn. After a long search you meet a sorceress who promises to help you. She offers you a choice between two spells. One will give you the power to speak to animals. The other will weave you a golden net for catching magical beasts. Which spell will you choose?

If you choose to speak with animals, turn to page 44. If you choose the golden net, turn to page 49. Take heed! The realm of the unicorn is perilous. You may be burned to a cinder in a dragon's fire or turned into a tree by an evil wood-witch. Or you may find the unicorn and bring it home in triumph!"

Take heed! These books are addicting! I wish I could say I've grown out of them, or that I've put these books up for sale or sent them to another loving family in a donation bin. I would be lying. I have plans for these books, most involving sitting down with friends and traversing the scary, quirky worlds these authors have created. Now this, ladies and gents, is a worthy adventure.


  1. Hurrah! It's lovely to finally meet another chronic multi-reader. I find myself constantly picking up new books, even if the seven old ones have yet to be completed. Alas.

    I think it's great that you were able to read these Choose Your Own Adventure books, now and when you were a child. The multiple endings always bothered me. I am not a postmodernist, I fear. I like things too clear cut. ;)

  2. I love the idea of these books, I feel like I would read it over and over until I had expirienced evey single ending! I really must pick one up one day and give it a try. Great post!

    xx and hugs


  3. I love those! They were practically all I read in 3rd grade (the Choose Your Own Adventures, plus regular Goosebumps). The only Goosebumps CYOA one I read, though, was a different vampire story(ies) than the one you mentioned here, I think. The first choice you make dictates whether or not you become a vampire or if your dog does instead.

  4. Oh my goodness!! I had no idea these existed! That sounds like so much fun. I, like Jhordyn, would probably read them over and over till I had done every possible scenario. I may have to try to find some of these.

    And I finished "Birdcage Girl"! Or at least, I finished what was there. It's in progress, right? I absolutely loved it! You are such a creative and beautiful writer. Your characters are so lovable, I don't think I could pick a favourite! I thought I didn't like the mother but once I started learning her back story... I started to understand her a litle more. Ashlyn, Dr. Latibule (and faithful Diamond!) were all marvelous. :)

  5. Ahhh! The goosebumps books! I had so many of them. My favourite was definitely the one about the werewolf, a halloween one. and there was one about a weird hippy babysitter who was really a mouse. both gave me dreadful nightmares...

  6. It's not really surprising, there are a lot of people who like to know the end, but also who do not like. I am a big fan of surprises, any kind of surprises that's why i don't want to guess, anything. But sometimes, it's stronger than me, and i'm trying to discover the end. Anyway.
    Nice post ! i wanted to discover new stuff and here i am reading your post. Thanks!

  7. @ Ashley *high fives* YAY FOR MULTI-READING! Seriously. I do it way too much. But I usually do get back to the books I start rather quickly. Being bogged down by a ton of work doesn't make it any easier :( Oh my gosh, I am so not a postmodernist either, haha. Whenever we'd go through the tenets in class, I sit glumly at my desk and wish we were back in the Romantic era. However, I think R.L. Stine particular style left me feeling excited even about the bad endings. I knew that if I was going to get eaten, it would be being eaten by something cool like a mutant potato chip (I made this up, but I'm sure it could be in one of the 42 books).

    @Jhordyn Ashley I'm glad I've been able to inform you about them! I'd recommend Trapped in Batwing Hall if you're up for a lot of unexpected adventure. It's probably one of Stine's most creative of what I've read thus far.

    @elfarmy17 Those were the good old days, haha. Yes - this one has the immediate choice between you or the dog turning in the vampire. I've read the first couple pages, but I haven't completely gone through it to any ending. I think I'd having a hard time going the vampire-dog route since I'm one of those 5% who gets really upset when dogs die (or are hurt, or becomes villains, etc). I'd rather take the hit and become a vamp, haha. While I was reading through the list, it looked like there were other vampire stories too :)

  8. @Melee Yes, totally! Like I recommended to Jhordyn, Trapped in Batwing Hall is excellent :D

    Ah! Thank you so much for reading Birdcage Girl! Yes, it's definitely continuing; my goal is to make it book-length, so that hopefully it will one day be published. This dream might be hard because of it already being on the internet, but who knows what could happen in the future :)

    I really wanted her mother to be hated, but I figured it's only fair to give her a back story. I thought it would help put Ashlyn is perspective too. Even as the author, writing Rosia's past, I began to feel sympathetic. That's what characters do, those little buggers :D Woah, and I'm glad you mentioned Diamond :) I can't wait 'till he gets more time on paper.

    @mckenzie Wow! I don't think I read either of those! I'm sure they were really good :) I can't even tell you how many I've read, but it's probably tiny in comparison to the amount of books he wrote. I even read some of the teenage books (Fear Street, I think) and my favorite is called "Sunburn." Really romantic and scary, if you can believe it, haha. I missed seeing Stine at a conference this year (too far a drive, for sure), but I hope he comes to a convention closer next time. I'm going to think of questions to ask him :D

    @Sanae Hello! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, the surprise is pretty great, and it's worth not skipping ahead sometimes. But if you're playing it with a bunch of people, sometimes you don't want to start all over again, haha.

  9. Oh, I used to love R.L Stine! I used to read these religiously as a child and then when I got to my teens I started reading his young adult series.. I'm not too sure of the name, but it definitely terrified me. I'm much like you, love to read my old childhood favourites. xxxx

  10. @Joanna Aw, awesome! They were pretty addicted books, eh? But I do love to read my old favs - and then see what books I didn't read and enjoy them. I thought I read a lot as a kid, but I guess I barely scratched the surface, haha.

  11. I really love this post. I've never read many choose your own adventure books, but I can imagine that they would make reading more enjoyable for reluctant readers; makes them feel as though they own the story.

    I don't remember Goosebumps choose your own adventures. I just read the standard ones.

    Writing in second person is a great feat. Have you ever read Tom Robbins's Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas? It's written entirely in the second person. I know Junot Diaz wrote a few sections of The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao in second person. Diaz came to speak at my university, and he said he likes to practice writing in the second person because it's challenging and he is not particularly good at it. I found this inspiring. I've written a few brief pieces in second person. They are all works in progress. (This applies to all of my work).

  12. @Tin Kettle Inn Haha, I'm sure they would. I feel like there are a lot of opportunities for innovation with books, but it only happens when someone breaks the norm for us. This is one such case that just plain fun.

    Oh my gosh, isn't it? Second person is so hard. Especially when it's longer than a short story. No, I haven't read either of those books, but they sound intriguing. I'll definitely look them up. Wow, that's cool that you got to listen to Diaz speak. It's really great to meet published writers and hear them speak out their work. Very inspiring, indeed.

    Haha, yes, I've written some second person stories too, but mostly as nonfiction stories. Those are strangely easier for me with that pov. But I always feel like the "you" isn't powerful enough, so I usually groan and tug at my hair.