About a month ago while waiting for a prescription to be filled, I popped into a bookstore to browse. As every book worm knows, this was a dangerous idea; of course, I didn’t walk out empty-handed. In the romance section I came across this book that I just couldn’t resist buying: My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris. My Lady’s Choosing is an historical romance, starring a “plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society.” The twist, however, is that that plucky penniless heroine is YOU. Yes, that’s right, My Lady’s Choosing (now you’re getting the title, right?) is an interactive book, aka one of those choose-your-own-adventure books for adults. Now you see why I had to buy it.
Like a lot of kids who grew up in the ’90s, I gobbled up choose-your-own-adventure books when I was young. I particularly remember the despair of arriving at an ending where you died and the triumph of getting to an ending where you prevailed. The sheer nostalgia of seeing a book for grown-ups—and an historical romance to boot!—in the same format made me feel I had no choice but to purchase it. What I wasn’t expecting with My Lady’s Choosing was how different the interactive aspect made the reading experience. Perhaps I had just forgotten.
I was so thrilled with this new but also strangely familiar reading experience that I just couldn’t help but share, perhaps excessively, along the way. (You should see my Goodreads updates for the book). It was so exciting to be choosing my own destiny and seeing the outcomes of my decisions! When I arrived at my first happy ending (an enemies to lovers marriage to Benedict, aka Mr. Darcy, with a promise to engage in witty banter and carriage sex forever) it had a great emotionally satisfying ending that all good romance novels have, but with the added bonus that that was just the beginning!
It was the third or fourth time starting the story from the beginning again that it really sunk in how different reading in this non-linear and collaborative way was. I knew that one of the happy endings featured the heroine in a lesbian relationship, so as a queer woman I was obviously keen on tracking down that plot line. But I had trouble finding it at first. (I didn’t realize you had to initially pick one of the male love interests—the aforementioned Benedict aka Mr. Darcy or Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables—in order to make your way to Egyptian lesbian adventures with pirates in the company of the “spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline”).
Consciously seeking out different narratives made me an active reader in a way that I’m just not normally. It had me thinking carefully about the craft of the narrative and the intricate puzzle pieces that put together the interactive story. It didn’t feel like work; it was super fun! But it felt, I don’t know, like a collaboration of a reading experience that I was working on together with the book, instead of passively absorbing the contents of the book. It was such a delight! My Lady’s Choosing is one novel (or, at least, it’s the length of your average novel), but at the end of exploring all the myriad possible plot lines, I felt like I had read at least ten. Do you know how satisfying that is? Books that remind me of the simple joy of reading are hard to find; this was one of them.
Honestly, aside from its interactive qualities, My Lady’s Choosing is an amazing book. It is HILARIOUS and it hits that perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. Even if it wasn’t a choose-your-own-adventure I suspect I would have loved it.
But I also can’t imagine it as anything other than an interactive book. The format was ideal for what Curran and Zageris were doing: affectionately making fun of and honoring well-known historical romance plots, from novels written by today’s romance writers all the way back to Jane Austen. I’m sure there are lots of other possibilities for interactive books like My Lady’s Choosing that want to explicitly address intertextuality and the history of the genres they are writing in. Can you imagine something similar addressing the tropes and stereotypes in fantasy and science fiction, for example?
Remember that craze for adult coloring books? How at first people were like, what, coloring isn’t for adults and then everyone was like, oh, actually, coloring is awesome why did we think adults shouldn’t be doing it too, and then it became this huge trend where there were more adult coloring books than you knew what to do with? I propose that we go the same way with interactive books. More choose-your-own-adventure books for adults, please!