7 Choose-Your-Own-Escapade Books for Adults
Riane Konc recommends literature that lets the reader drive
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Ask anyone writing a book, and they’ll tell you: writing a book is very hard. (You don’t actually have to ask: we’ll tell you anyway.) Your classic, run-of-the-mill, hard-to-write book contains exactly one ending. One and a half, if you count epilogues (I don’t). But there’s a certain genre of book that dispenses with the conventional wisdom that books should have one to one and a half endings. There’s a certain genre of book that believes that books should in fact have dozens of endings, and — more than that — that the reader should have some control over the plot along the way.
I’m talking about books where the reader chooses his or her own path, the type of books made popular by the Choose Your Own Adventure series of the ‘80s and ‘90s. These books were formatted so that after every couple of pages of reading, a choice would be presented to the reader: you would make your choice, which would lead to other choices, which would lead to any number of endings. In my experience as a young Choose Your Own Adventure reader, those endings usually involved my horrifying and violent death. It robbed me of my remaining nine-year-old innocence, but I still kept coming back for more.
My own first book, Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance, is inspired by three things: first, by a deep, abiding belief that Santa is real and walks among us; second, that there is no one on Earth more evil than luxury condo executives descended upon a small town; and third, that there is nothing more fun than the kaleidoscope of plot possibilities that a “choose your own path” book allows.
Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance is like a Hallmark Christmas movie pumped full of steroids. A satire of the “made for TV Christmas movie” genre, Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance follows our heroine, Chrissy, a busy businesswoman from the big city who loves money and hates Christmas. But when her business boyfriend dumps her and her business job fires her, she has no choice: she has to return to her simple small town, Candy Cane Falls, for Christmas. Chrissy has no choice, but you, the reader, do: from small decisions (what Christmas hold music should be playing on the phone when her mom calls?) to big ones (when her terrible business boyfriend comes to her small town to win her back, should she accept his proposal or not?), you, the reader, are the the one in charging of building the most magical, insane holiday romance ever.
When I was writing this book, I went looking for inspiration. I wanted to read books that were similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series… but written for adults. And I found quite a few. The titles below, in no particular order, are some of my recommendations for any adult looking to recreate the magic, joy, and occasional terror you once experienced while reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays by Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon
Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon, alums of The Onion, are the masters of the “what if a choose-your-own-path book tackled the excruciatingly mundane travails of adulthood?” genre. Aptly named, the Choose Your Own Misery series features three books so far, and #2 in the series is The Holidays. The hilarious parody that’s perfect for scrooges of all stripes, Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays is predicated on the idea that you, the narrator, are desperately trying to skip out on family holidays. But who could know how much disaster and misfortune would await you? There’s only one way to find out (read this book).
Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
Choose-your-own-path-books-for-adults master Ryan North believes that when it comes to Shakespeare, “Plays aren’t meant to be read. They were meant … to be played.” Romeo and/or Juliet, North’s hilarious deep dive into all of the possibilities of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, features over one hundred different endings, and explores questions like: what if Romeo and Juliet never met in the first place? What if, instead of moping around the castle, Juliet just got super buff? What if—and who couldn’t have seen this coming—the two star-crossed lovers teamed up and took over Verona while wearing robot suits? If you need the answers to these questions (and trust me, you do), this is the book for you.
My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris
In My Lady’s Choosing, you get to play as a plucky but penniless young Regency maiden who works as a bitter dowager’s companion. What’s there to do but … find love? Who will you choose: he “bantering baronet” Sir Benedict Granville? Or the handsome highlander, Captain Angus McTaggart? Or the wild and mad Lord Garraway Craven? (That last name should tip you off.) For lovers of historical romances and Byronic heroes, My Lady’s Choosing offers dozens of hilarious potential paths, misfortunes, adventures, and romances… all that await whatever lords or ladies pick up this book.
Build Your Own Romantic Comedy by Lana Schwartz
Schwartz’s forthcoming book, Build Your Own Romantic Comedy, delivers exactly what the title promises: it lets you, the reader, help piece together your own perfectly stereotypical romantic comedy plot. A loving send-up of all your favorite romantic comedies, Build Your Own Romantic Comedy puts you in charge of all the classic tropes: will the heroine be able to save the struggling bakery? Will the undercover journalist meet her deadline? Will we finally find out what the quirky best friend really thinks? That’s up to you decide.
Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana Schwartz
Choose Your Own Disaster is the only piece of nonfiction on our list. Unlike most of the other “choose your own path” books on our list, Choose Your Own Disaster uses made-up personality quizzes as its way of guiding the reading through its chapters. The reader gets to choose his or her path by taking quizzes such as “Which fake rom-com lady career should you pursue?” or “What sort of writer will you become?” or “Which Lord of the Rings character are you, based on your eating disorder?” Equally hilarious and dark, Choose Your Own Disaster brings the adult “choose your own path” storyline to memoir.
A Series of Choose Your Own Adventure Stories Where No Matter What You Choose You Are Immediately Eaten by a Werewolf by Luke Burns
This brief, hilarious interactive online story, conveniently abbreviated to ASOCYOASWNMWYCYAIEBAW, lets you choose from five different adventures for your starting point. But no matter what you choose, from The Old Mansion to The Pizza Parlor of Peril to The Mystery of Werewolf Forest, be warned now: it is exactly as the title promises. Whatever narrative choices you click on, you are absolutely and immediately going to be eaten by a werewolf. Which is, in its own strange way, somehow kind of comforting.
Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster
Your name? Elizabeth Bennett. Your mission? To marry prudently (first), and for love (hard second). How are going to do this? It’s up to the reader. Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Austen Adventure is a delightful, hilarious, romantic romp through Austen-land: all of the landmarks, halls, gentlemen callers, and sisters playing wist you could ever imagine populate the pages of Lost in Austen. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of this book.