As a kid, I’d consume the Choose Your Own
Adventure series with a velocity I was regularly
told was unbecoming. The ability to execute
choice (no matter how minute) and agency
(even fictionalized) helped me through puberty.
I’d borrow copies from my local library and read
the paperbacks, beginning with Edward Packard’s
The Cave of Time, in a recursive form. The compact
words and works were deliberately tucked in denim
and coat pockets, backpacks, and under my mattress.
As a main character in my own story, I believed.
It never mattered that each series entry was riddled
with logical fallacies, the same ones I’d later study
at university — red herrings, hasty generalizations,
appeals to authority (mostly, an insistence that
decisions are binary), tossed with appeals to
emotion, slippery slopes, and personal incredulity.
Mostly, fallacies of the absurd —
Is it possible to sell or promise anything?
The paperbacks once marked thirty-three
cents a copy, now sell on Amazon for ten-fold.
The series has its own website. All stories
digitized; all plot points easily verified.
As I’d reimagine endings, resolve
conflicts, and choose my next offering, I’d
eagerly anticipate the next scene.
I was led to believe that choice was tangible,
like 20-20 vision and apples at the market.
Now grown, I watch choose
your own adventures
unfold and collapse in real-time —
I no longer believe.
In one storyline,
migrants lose contact with Earth
and those with agency choose not to
reply or reimagine destiny.
The text reads –
“a fishing trawler carrying
more than 700 migrants
primarily from Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan
went down off the coast of Greece.”
search and rescue efforts
continue for more than 96 hours.
An early draft of the script follows —
“Somewhere near the famous wreck
of the Titanic, a deep-sea submersible
is missing. At the time of writing, the search
for the 21-foot craft, known as the Titan,
was entering its fourth day….”
As the stories near their climax, choice
and opportunity dissipate —
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,
and we pray that the departed souls find eternal peace.”
In Last Day, Charlotte asked Wilbur, “What’s a life anyway?”
Wilbur knew not how to reply but admitted that he’d gladly give
his life for hers. He really would. If he could.
Is choice the same as agency?
Between 1979 and 1998 the Choose Your Own Adventure series
sold more than 250 million copies. The price to ride the Titan,
250 thousand dollars. The cost of a copy of Charlotte’s Web, $2.50.
Choice, ultimately happenstance.
I wonder, what’s the –
price of choice
distance between safety and trust
cost of adventure
value of a life
lifespan on an individual’s mark
purpose of arbitrary plot points
point of a headline
When Bantam Books allowed the Choose Your Own Adventure
trademark to lapse, another company initiated a relaunch
and breathed new life in the body of work.
Oxygen, the source of human life.
I imagine what the adventurers might
have told their families before they left.
Before losing contact with mothers
and motherships to embark
on alternate timelines
and unscripted trips.
I hope for the best, whatever
that might mean, for all
impacted and wonder about
choice and circumstance.
For Choose Your Own Adventure texts, the number of possible
outcomes vary, ranging from as few as 7 to more than 40. The series’
titles share few patterns. Characteristics like the number of pages
and the ratio of good to bad endings all vary.
Allegedly, this allows for a more credible sense of agency,
as well as repeat readings. Packard also introduced unexpected
plot twists — endless page loops and trick endings.
In Inside UFO 54-40, for example,
“paradise planet” can be reached
only by accident or cheating —
Another dose of realism or a sales tactic?
If even the Choose Your Own Adventure
series is heavily plotted,
the notion of choice is another contradiction.
Now, as I check the news
for updates on current storylines,
a police car drives by at no more than ten miles an hour —
watching (waiting) for life’s choose your own adventures
and its many subplots to unfold in real-time,
as if a choose your own adventure is open for crafting.
Wherever their paths might lead,
may all adventurers and those who love them
About the Poem
Until I stumbled across a copy of a Choose Your Own Adventure at a library book sale, I hadn’t realized just how consumed I had been by recent news. Reading and writing have always helped me process and remain present. Some days, I need reminders in the form of paperbacks.
About the Author
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, works, and writes in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Her most recent collection – 14 (Plus) Reasons Why – is now available by free lines press.