In the 1980s, the Choose Your Own Adventure book series was all the rage among kids. From "Journey Under the Sea" to "Your Code Name is Jonah," "The Abominable Snowman," and "Deadwood City," each novel was a "gamebook" in which the reader would make choices throughout the story that would lead to different paths and outcomes. Forty years later, the series still sells a million copies each year. Leslie Jamison explores the history and power of these quaint-but-enchanting "interactive" books in The New Yorker:
The story of Choose Your Own Adventure is largely the tale of two men: Edward Packard, a lawyer who came up with the concept while telling bedtime stories to his two daughters (who sometimes wanted the protagonist to do different things), and R. A. (Ray) Montgomery, an independent publisher who put out Packard's first book, in 1976, after all the big houses had rejected it. Each of them eventually went on to write nearly sixty titles in the series[…]
When his daughters were young, Packard told them bedtime stories about a boy named Pete, a literary alter ego of [daughter] Andrea's. (Pete was also the name of a friend she had a crush on, but she thinks the character's creation had more to do with her suspicion that boys had more freedom in the world.) At key junctures in the story, Packard would ask his daughters what they thought Pete should do next, and when they gave different answers he'd play out both possibilities. Packard remembers this innovation as a function of necessity—"If I'd been a better storyteller, we never would have gotten the form. . . . I'd get stumped, and ask the girls what should happen next"—but Andrea recalls it as an instance of his generosity. He wanted to give each girl her own ending, just as he was always meticulously fair in his distribution of snacks, compliments, and attention.
Andrea remembers bedtime stories with her dad as sacred—this was the time the kids got to be with him, after his long days working at a law firm in Manhattan and his lengthy train commutes back to their home, in suburban Connecticut. Eventually, Packard began using these commutes to turn his bedtime stories into his first book, "Sugarcane Island," a story full of branching paths recounting Pete's adventures on a remote island. Working on the manuscript offered Packard an escape from a law career he found largely unsatisfying.