To Be or Not to Be: An Interactive Approach to Classic Literature

If you grew up in the eighties or nineties, then you very likely saw or even read at least one of the books from the popular kids’ series Choose Your Own Adventure. Readers got to make decisions, both seemingly significant and seemingly insignificant, that led to various endings. Occasionally you might have ended up with a particularly gruesome death as you flipped back through decisions in an attempt to complete as many storylines as possible. Choose-your-own books, choose-your-path books, click-your-own books, and other interactive stories like these are all part of a genre called gamebooks.

Choose-your-own stories are making a big comeback, and this time they’re targeted at adult audiences. One big example of this is Netflix’s interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which swept the internet like a storm in December. (If you’re interested in Bandersnatch and video games, check out Scott MacDonald’s post on the visual choose-your-own story.) But this time, interactive books are coming back for adult readers.

Gamebooks are about being able to play around in a familiar world, make mistakes, and try again. Interactive books for adults do just that, but this time, the majority of choose-your-path books are focusing on classic and well-known stories, rather than the nostalgic stereotypes found in the kids’ series. Interactive books use the stories of classics––Austen, Shakespeare, historical romance––to give adult readers a chance to toy with the literary worlds they have known and loved.

Books like Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure and To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure show rich worlds that have already existed for over a hundred years––with edits, of course. These books use plot arcs specific to the existing world or author to give readers choices.

In My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel, the historical romantic heroine gets sent across the eighteenth-century highlands and into the relationship and story she and the reader want. These paths are risqué and charming, and certainly wouldn’t be as much fun for the reader without background knowledge of romance stereotypes. The tropes make the scandal and adventure all the more interesting and satirical for adult readers. And in the contemporary choose-your-own format, readers can have the option to end their romance with an LGBTQ pairing or a gothic haunted castle.

As interactive books for adult readers emerge on the market, they make an interesting study. While the choose-your-own-path stories appeal to adult readers who remember the legendary Choose Your Own Adventure series, these books tend to resell the classics for adults who want to play around with the old tropes and stories.

Paulann Petersen Guest Poet Post: “Dedication”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s current Poet Laureate, who resides in Portland. Please enjoy her post and her 2013 Valentine, which follows.


“There isn’t really such a room with a connection to this struggling poet—is there?”
This is the opening sentence of a letter dated 23 March, 1993, a letter I’d just received from Bill Stafford, that struggling poet extraordinaire. He was asking about my classroom at West Linn High School.
I was in the spring of my second year at West Linn, a markedly crowded high school facility. The first year I taught there, my classroom was an AV cart I pushed to a different place each period, using other teachers’ rooms during their prep times. The second year, I got a classroom of my own, and the privilege of naming it. The West Linn English Department had a Jane Austen Room, a William Shakespeare Room, a Robert Frost Room, and a number of other rooms named—by the teachers who occupied them—for major literary figures.
It was my turn. What writer did I want to honor? I was a teacher who wrote, a writer who taught. What better writer/teacher/luminary than Bill? What better star than the one shining close to home, in Lake Oswego, just a few miles north of West Linn? So, the brass plaque above the door leading into my newly acquired classroom said THE WILLIAM STAFFORD ROOM.
By that spring of 1993, I’d had several months to settle in. On one wall, I’d put a number of Bill’s poems and photographs of him. But he wasn’t the only person feted in that room. On other walls, I’d posted my students’ poems, and dozens of photographs they’d taken. I put up student paintings and drawings I’d purchased. And big posters of Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Tina Turner, and Miles Davis.  And programs from West Linn theatrical productions.
Then more posters of Janis Joplin, Thelonius Monk, Gracie Slick, John Lee Hooker, Dexter Gordon, and Judith Jamison. The room buzzed with color and pizzazz. I’d painted a wild sunburst on the wall, surrounding the clock. Thai kites flew up and around the florescent lights.
I wanted to celebrate this showcase of creative personalities, so I wrote to Bill asking if he’d be willing to preside at a dedication party. In my letter to him, I briefly described the room, naming some of the others honored there, wondering if he’d be put off by such an eclectic, unconventional bunch.
He wasn’t. He agreed to come.

William Stafford and Paulann Petersen,
photograph by Mike Markee

The late April dedication day was stormy and raw. I filled the room with bouquets of lilacs from home. The department teachers pitched in to provide cookies and punch. An hour before Bill was due, the power went out. As soon as my last class left, I scrambled—pushing the refreshment table up near the room’s only outside window, hoping that its bit of natural light would be enough for Bill to read the few poems he’d said he’d read, enough to spotlight him. But why did I bother to worry? The power came back on shortly after Bill arrived.
People gathered in the room—teachers and students, a few with requests. Anne, our Fulbright Exchange teacher from Australia, asked him to read “Fifteen,” a poem she’d taught for years Down-Under. She was astonished that this world-famous poet had come to visit. A National Book Award winner, a former U.S. Poet Laureate was right there in the American public high school where she’d been assigned. She couldn’t quite believe it. Neither could the rest of us. We were gathered to dedicate a room named for a poet and peace activist who was extraordinarily dedicated to our community of readers and writers and teachers. We had come to honor him. By being there—in his easy, unassuming way—Bill was honoring us.
Bill read the poems people requested. He talked with our students, our teachers. He signed books, even putting his signature below “Fifteen” where it appeared in the text book Anne had brought with her. The afternoon grew late. Bill took his leave.
That day I’d brought a pot of Star-Gazer lilies to school, a gift for him to take home to Dorothy, a small way of saying thanks. Standing in my classroom doorway, under the WILLIAM STAFFORD ROOM plaque, I watched him walk away—down the long hall, toward the outside door. He had the pot of lilies in his right arm, tucked up against his ribs. With each step, those pale blooms bobbed from side to side.
That was April. He died in August.
Later, after the memorial gathering for Bill at Lewis & Clark, Kim Stafford and I exchanged a few words about the dedication of that classroom at West Linn High. I told Kim I was still a little amazed that his father would take the time and trouble to be there that late April afternoon. Amazed at his unpretentiousness. Grateful for his generosity to other teachers.
“Oh,” Kim said, “That’s just like Daddy! He was such a small-town guy.”
Paulann's Valentine

Paulann’s Valentine, 2013

Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen, has published five full-length books of poetry, most recently The Voluptuary (Lost Horse Press). Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The New Republic, and Prairie Schooner, among others. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts, she serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events.
Paulann’s poems “Appetite” and “Bloodline” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Portland edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.

Literary Love is in the Air!

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Are you ready? Whether you are spending it with a date or looking for new love, there is one type of place that you are guaranteed to have a good time: your local bookstore. Bookstores are fantastic for dates. You never lack for conversation when surrounded by thousands of stories. If you are single, you can go to your favorite section and find someone interesting to talk to or something fantastic to read. Be sure to grab a copy of your favorite book so you have an automatic icebreaker. Whether it is a book or a person, the love of your life could be waiting among the shelves between Jane Austen and Tony Wolk.
Now that I have all of you excited to spend the 14th at a bookstore, let us take a look at some of the wonderful bookstores you could go to here in Portland.
The first Portland bookstore most people think of is Powell’s Books. This is an excellent place for a date. Not only can you stop by the cafe for a lovely little snack, there are near-endless ways to enjoy yourself. Try going on a tour of the rooms and seeing what—or who—you find there. You and your potential date could even take in an event that night. Author Nick Flynn will be doing a reading of his book “The Reenactments” at 7:30 p.m. at Powell’s Burnside location and with local author and screenwriter John Raymond joining the conversation, it promises to be a fun evening.
One of Portland’s hidden gems is Bingo Used Books. Located on Powell Boulevard. From the outside, Bingo looks unassuming. Its signs are small, and if you are not looking for it, you may miss it. This store is pure magic inside. It is easy to get lost in Bingo’s organized chaos, and even easier to find something you did not know you were looking for. You and your date could easily wander this store for hours finding amazing books, and the labyrinthine shelves offer countless places to steal a kiss.
Annie Bloom’s Books is a fantastic bookstore in southwest Portland’s Multnomah Village with a focus on local authors. The store is a warm and inviting place with towers of books and comfortable chairs that are begging for people to curl up and enjoy a good book in. The friendly staff, regulars, and store cat all make this a wonderful place to spend time. If you are going out on a date or looking for a way to spend this holiday on your own, Annie Bloom’s is a great place to go.
Wherever you end up this Valentine’s Day, let books be involved. Books are sexy. If anyone doubts this, just find a copy of John Keats poems and read them “Bright Star”. I promise it will change their minds. Happy Valentine’s Day!