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  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 4:00 pm on 2018/09/13 Permalink
    Tags: choose your own disaster, choose your own misery: dating, dana schwartz, flip to page 103, ha!, jeff burke, jill gagnon, , , mike macdonald, my lady's choosing, ryan north, super giant monster time!, to be or not to be   

    Go Your Own Way With These 5 Modern-Day Takes on Choose Your Own Adventure Books 

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    R.A. Montgomery’s Choose Your Own Adventure books were an ever-present part of childhood for ‘80s and ‘90s kids. Popular at both school libraries and book fairs, they were a game as much as they were a book, more accurately described as “interactive fiction”—taking the infinite possibilities idea of video games and applying it to text. A CYOA book wasn’t just one story, or a collection of stories—it was the same story told a bunch of different ways, like Rashomon for kids, but with way more aliens, rainforest escapes, and fringe scientists. The stakes were always nice and high, too—if your character died (or rather when your character died) you could just go back to the last breaking-off point at try again.

    A generation or two of kids inhaled Choose Your Own Adventure books, and they made a huge impression on readers, some of whom grew up to be writers. And those writers have found ways to imitate, parody, pay homage to, and expand the ideas of interactive fiction not to mention second-person fiction.

    If you want to read about a CYOA­­­-style book about grown-up life…SCROLL DOWN.

    Choose Your Own Misery: Dating, by Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon
    MacDonald and Gagnon have struck on a brilliant idea, juxtaposing the breathless tone and breakneck speed employed by Choose Your Own Adventure books with painfully mundane and realistic adult situations. Sure, they’re still harrowing and terrible, just not spelunking in haunted caves or messing with malfunctioning time machines or whatever. In Choose Your Own Misery: The Office, the authors tasked readers with deciding whether or not to actually deliver their big presentation…or goof around on the Internet (hi!). (You know, work stuff.) Next up came The Holidays, which offers its own aggravating choices, like spending the festive season with your terrible family…or your significant other’s terrible family. Completing the trilogy is a book about things more terrifying than any spooky pirate ship or alien abduction scenario a CYOA could produce: first dates, mingling at parties, and connecting to another person in some small way. Ah, love!

    To go on a Shakespearen adventure…KEEP READING.

    To Be or Not to Be, by Ryan North
    The author subtitled this the copyright-skirting “A Chooseable-Path Adventure,” but we all know what this is. It’s also incredibly ambitious—the dude is rewriting Shakespeare, or at least he’s making you do it, putting into the reader’s hands all the raw material of the greatest work of English drama, jostling it all around, and seeing what happens if the reader can make the Prince of Denmark’s bad decisions for him. Finally, you can make Hamlet get to it while the getting is good and kill his throne-usurping uncle right away, and move on. Or you can give Ophelia, a fascinating character robbed of a good storyline, the good storyline she deserves. There are about 100 possible endings in all, plus it’s illustrated and there are puzzles. It’s everything a play should be!

    If you want to pursue the aliens…READ THE NEXT ENTRY.

    Super Giant Monster Time!by Jeff Burk
    And here we have a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that is more homage (peep that perfect cover) and continuation of the form than a transplanting of its properties. It reads exactly like an old school Choose Your Own Adventure classic, especially since the plot concerns giant alien monsters from space that are attacking your city. However, there are some adults-only, ironic flourishes, such as how the aliens’ ray guns turn people into mohawked punk rockers, as well as barroom fights, lots of swearing, and violence. It’s a kids’ book for adults is what it is.

    For a classy British adventure…MOVE ON DOWN.

    My Lady’s Choosing, by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
    There’s this whole cultural subgenre of Jane Austen fantasy—stories about people who long to live inside a Jane Austen novel (Shannon Hale’s Austenland) or magically get to do that (the British miniseries Lost in Austen). Who wouldn’t want to bicker and then marry Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and enjoy all those Regency-era fancy parties? The most successful and ephemeral entry in this genre: My Lady’s Choosing, because it’s written in the second person—“you” are literarily there, dear reader, making the decisions for a “plucky but penniless” young woman as she tries to find love with the prickly Sir Benedict, an affectionate faux Darcy. It’s a wonderful use of the Choose Your Own Adventure Format while also paying respect to Austen. This means that yes, there’s lots of witty back-and-forthing, but depending on the decisions you make, may also encounter a libertine Scotsman or go on a pirate adventure.

    If you wish to follow the clever humorist…READ ON.

    Choose Your Own Disaster, by Dana Schwartz
    Schwartz has done a lot of living, or she’s lived so much of her life with eyes wide open and with the Nora Ephron dictum that “everything is copy” in mind, that she’s already written a memoir by her mid-20s. This is an innovative autobiography in more than one way. First of all, life is rarely linear, but books that tell life stories are—but not this one. A read of Choose Your Own Disaster is all jumbled up, out of order, episodic, and fragmented—on account of how life is like that. It’s also interspersed with Internet-style personality quizzes…the answers of which direct readers to choose different paths—which are funny, self-deprecating stories from Schwartz’s life. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel where author, reader, and plot all get rolled up into each other’s business.

    What modern-day Choose Your Own Adventure iteration are you excited about?

    The post Go Your Own Way With These 5 Modern-Day Takes on <i>Choose Your Own Adventure</i> Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 2:00 pm on 2018/09/07 Permalink
    Tags: back in the saddle, ha!, , ,   

    6 Reasons Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies Is the Perfect Buddy Comedy 

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    If you’ve ever chuckled at an Obama/Biden meme, in which Joe plays a prank and Barack rolls his eyes affectionately, Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies—one part mystery, one part fanfic—is for you. When his favorite Amtrak conductor dies and all evidence points to murder, the former Veep can’t resist launching his own investigation. After all, life has gotten a bit dull since vacating his post in D.C., and he’s eager to be useful again, especially if that means teaming up with his partner-in-service and BFF, the 44th President of the United States. A perfect buddy comedy ensues. Here are six reasons why we love it.

    1. It’s fast-paced with a concise narrative voice
    Shaffer knew to keep things short and sweet. Chapters range from one to five pages, and the yarn is narrated by Biden himself, using semi-hardboiled prose: “I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Barack had disappeared into the inky darkness, same as he’d come, leaving nothing behind but the stale smell of smoke.” (Don’t worry: with one exception, Obama sticks to Nicorette gum.) 

    2. The dialogue is gold
    Biden, re: the machinations of an apparent femme fatale: “Son of a buttermilk biscuit, we got bamboozled!” Obama, in response to whether he’ll run for any type of office again: “Michelle would kill me in my sleep. She said she’d smother me with a pillow. Even showed me which one she’d use.” 

    3. Its characters’ behavior is very on brand.
    Obama is “cool as cucumber lotion” in tense situations, but always willing to step into the fray when needed, as when Joe’s being held at gunpoint by a biker gang. Joe, who swaps his bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses for a KISS MY BASS hat as a “disguise,” is impulsive and hotheaded, eager to go with his gut, as when he storms the hideout of the aforementioned biker gang. Together they’re unstoppable. 

    4. A genuine relationship shines through
    The former Veep and ex-President are best friends and it shows, even if they’re going through a rough patch right now. There’s nothing either wouldn’t do for the other, even if they bicker like brothers. Obama schools Biden on the flowers he chose for Jill (“The lily is a funeral flower. If you were going for romantic, you should have gone for roses”) and Biden accuses Obama of ditching their true-blue friendship to go windsurfing with celebrities (cough, Richard Branson). Their initial meetup sets the tone: “I offered a handshake. Barack turned it into a fist bump. It was a greeting I’d never been able to master, but I gave it my best shot. Barack smirked. Just like old times.”

    5. Funny situations abound
    When a fast-food clerk makes a casual remark about global warming, Barack can’t resist explaining the finer points of it to her, and his passion for the topic wins her over. He and his secret service agent, healthy eaters both, are horrified by what Joe orders at a diner (a “hot and bothered” plate of hash browns, covered with “cheese, onion, diced ham, and jalapeno.”) To pass the time inside a particularly rancid no-tell motel, Biden and Obama launch into a game of “POTUS, SCOTUS, or FLOTUS,” in which one of them names three women, and the other responds with the role he’d prefer for her. (Prior to participating, Obama acknowledges it’s a little demeaning to women, and wonders if Strom Thurmond came up with it.)

    6. It’s absurd but brilliant
    While picturing the events of the story, you may occasionally think, “This is CRAZY.” But is it? I mean, who could have predicted what would happen once this duo left office? Is this any crazier than what has actually occurred since 2016? My advice is to embrace the setup, because if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, it’s sort of plausible. I like to think so, anyway.

    The post 6 Reasons Andrew Shaffer’s <i>Hope Never Dies</i> Is the Perfect Buddy Comedy appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 4:00 pm on 2018/06/26 Permalink
    Tags: alan zweibel, born a crime, chrisopher buckley, coyote v. acme, dan gets a minivan, dan zevin, ha!, ian frazier, need a laugh?, no way to treat a first lady, the other shulman, thurber prize, ,   

    5 Hilarious Thurber Prize-Winning Reads 

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    Since 1997, the Thurber House has awarded the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Broadly speaking, it’s an obscure literary award, but to writers of humor, comedy, and satire, it’s a tremendous honor. (It also carries a prize of $5,000.) That might be because it’s handed out by the estate of James Thurber, one of the finest and most prolific of American writers who wrote with being funny in mind. (His works include My World and Welcome to ItThe Wonderful Oand The Thurber Carnivalwhich includes his most famous short piece, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”) Unlike other literary awards, the Thurber Prize considers and recognizes works of both fiction and nonfiction alike. They’ve also got a pretty good track record when it comes to racial, cultural, and gender diversity. Here are some past, notable winners of the Thurber Prize. 

    1997: Coyote V. Acmeby Ian Frazier
    1997: In the first ever Thurber Prize vote, Ian Frazier’s essay collection somehow beat out two more well-known, classic humor essay compilations: Al Franken’s bestselling Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and David Sedaris’s iconic Naked(Sedaris would win in 2001 for Me Talk Pretty One Day) Frazier would win again in 2009 for Lamentations of the FatherCoyote V. Acme gets its name from a popular piece Frazier wrote for The New Yorker, detailing Wile E. Coyote’s legal and complaint correspondence with the Acme Corporation, manufacturer of the many faulty products he unsuccessfully used to catch the Roadrunner in all those old cartoons. Other Frazier essays on pop cultural ephemera—a format now beloved by humor sites across the internet—include Don Johnson and “Ode to Billie Joe.”  

    2004: No Way to Treat a First Ladyby Christopher Buckley
    History, sex, and politics converge in this wry and lascivious satire that in the wake of today’s political climate feels like it’s about 1,000 years old. But cynicism is eternal and universal, especially when it’s delivered by Christopher Buckley, the author of Thank You for Smoking, and the son of National Review founder William F. Buckley. After the First Lady of the United States catches her husband, the president, having an affair with a Hollywood starlet. She throws an American historical relic at his head, which kills him, and the plot concerns the trial and its resultant media circus. 

    2006: The Other Shulmanby Alan Zweibel
    Shulman, a middle-aged guy with a lifelong weight problem always joked that he’s lost and re-gained the same 35 pounds since he was a teenager…which added up forms a complete separate person, a.k.a. Another Shulman. That’s his fictional alter ego, until he meets his real alter ego, a guy named Shulman who made all the good choices when our Shulman had made all the bad ones. In this inspirational, relatable tale of personal triumph and self-acceptance, scores are settled in the New York City marathon in this book written by a guy who knows comedy. Zweibel was on the initial writing staff of Saturday Night Live, and in the ‘80s, he co-created the innovative, fourth-wall busting sitcom It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. 

    2013: Dan Gets a Minivanby Dan Zevin
    Plenty of books and amusing essays in highbrow magazines have been written by aging dudes trying to come to terms with how they’re grown, responsible adults and not feckless young idiots anymore. But Zevin’s largely autobiographical take is probably the best one. With his life hurtling at high speeds into the titular adult-life metaphor of the title, Zevin (a Boston public radio host) details his journey from boy to man, and from romantic partner to family man, with stops at Costco, Disneyland, and the knee surgery clinic along the way. 

    2017Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
    Noah had his work cut out for him when he was plucked from the world of stand-up comedy and a brief tenure as a correspondent on The Daily Show to host the popular fake news show when Jon Stewart stepped down in 2015. He’s proven a worthy and funny choice, and he even matched his predecessor’s feat of winning a Thurber Award—Stewart and the TDS writing staff won in 2005 for America (The Book). Noah’s book isn’t a rehash of that book, though. Far from The Daily Show in book format, Noah wrote a harrowing and yet deeply funny memoir about his long, difficult, and at times, seemingly impossible road to success. Noah had to develop a sense of humor as a kid just to deal with living under apartheid laws in South Africa. The title refers to Noah’s very existence—his father is European, and his mother African, and interracial marriage was against the law in South Africa. Born a Crime is really a book about the power of humor and comedy to elevate and transform…which makes it a very worthy Thurber Prize winner. 

    What Thurber prize-winning books have you enjoyed?

    The post 5 Hilarious Thurber Prize-Winning Reads appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 3:00 pm on 2018/03/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , daniel devoe, David Almond, Gertrude Chandler Warner, ha!, , , robinson crusoe, skellig, the boxcar children, , with a laugh track   

    5 Classic Books Hollywood Should Adapt Into Corny Sitcoms 

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    Not every TV show was dreamed up by some people on their laptops in Hollywood. Many of today’s most popular shows have literary origins. Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for example, and Westworld is a thorough and thoughtful expansion of a kind of pulpy early ‘70s adventure novel by Michael Crichton.

    But those are high-budget, prestige cable dramas with relatively small audiences. What really brings in the viewers are broad, laugh-track-sweetened sitcoms, like The Big Bang Theory and Mom. Those aren’t based on books, but that doesn’t mean an ’80s-style sitcom couldn’t have a high fallutin’ inspiration. (There’s a show on right now called Superior Donuts that’s based on a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts, after all.) There are plenty of novels out there that would make fantastic, cheesy, classic-style sitcoms. After all, they’re already episodic in nature and explore the kinds of problems that sitcom characters easily solved in 22 minutes, week after week after week. Here are some books we’d love to see taped before a live studio audience.

    The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
    There hasn’t been a good orphan show in a long time, not at least since the heady days of the early ‘90s with Webster, Diff’rent Strokes, and Punky Brewster. Plots often revolved around somebody trying to separate the adoptive parents from their kid for some reason, and the plucky orphan or orphans strive to keep everybody together. That’s pretty much the plot of The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner’s heartwarming tale—clearly from another time—about a group of abandoned kids who become a tight-knit family unit when they take refuge in an abandoned boxcar. Yep, it’s a children’s book about homeless children (one of whom is a baby) living in a dangerous situation. Each episode of The Boxcar Children could be about the Boxcar Children (which is what they call themselves) trying to thwart some bumbling fool from Child Services.

    Skellig, by David Almond
    There have been so many high-concept sitcoms about normal people trying to keep some extraordinary creature hidden from the neighbors or the authorities—an alien on ALF, an alien on American Dad, a robot on Small Wonder, a genie on I Dream of Jeannie, and so on. Just sub in “wise and mystical human/owl/angel creature” for alien, robot, or genie and you’ve got Skellig!, the hilarious tale of a little boy who keeps his garage friend a secret.

    The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    The beloved French children’s book about a sweet and sensitive little boy who lives on a lonely planet all by himself is very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother. For example, they share a similar framing device—the main character (Ted, the Little Prince) tells of his adventures to a downed pilot, and his children, respectively. Those adventures also often involve relationships gone wrong, such as Ted’s many ill-fated romances, and the Little Prince’s thing with the self-absorbed rose in a jar, and the self-absorbed geographer. All a TV producer would have to do is make the stories funny instead of overwhelmingly melancholic.

    High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
    Think Cheers, but instead of barflies in a bar, it involves a different public place catering to a different compulsion: obsessive record collectors trying to buy records. Except that gloomy store owner Rob, aggressive employee Barry, and milquetoast Dick hilariously criticize the bad taste of anybody who comes in to buy a record. Sure, there are some colorful regulars, but most of the action revolves around Rob, Barry, and Dick ruminating on women, just like in Hornby’s novel. Also, it takes place someplace “cool,” like Portland or Austin, so bands are always dropping by to play a song or two.

    Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
    The famous Gilligan’s Island theme song namechecks Robinson Crusoe, one of the first major novels in the English language—so let’s go back to where it all started and just have a Robinson Crusoe sitcom. He’s a boorish, arrogant jerk, like many sitcom characters, and he’s just desperate to get off that island, by any means necessary. But he’s kind of dumb and his schemes never work, much to the chagrin of his over-it manservant, Friday. It’s Gilligan’s Island meets Jeeves and Wooster!

    What novel would you love to see as a sitcom?

    The post 5 Classic Books Hollywood Should Adapt Into Corny Sitcoms appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 5:00 pm on 2018/01/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , ha!, , , , , , ,   

    6 Classic Books That Almost Had Completely Different Titles 

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    Have you ever written a book? It’s very, very hard. Writers have to come up with thousands of perfect words and arrange them just so to create a thrilling and original narrative that also expresses their worldview via memorable and compelling characters. Doing all that requires a set of long-form expression skills, which is quite the opposite of coming up with a title—or encapsulating the entire novel into a handful of well-chosen words. A lot of writers can’t make a book and then also come up with a great title—the latter could and maybe should be up to editors and the marketing department. Here are some beloved classic novels whose authors nearly cursed with a terrible title. 

    Where the Wild Horses Are, by Maurice Sendak
    Where the Wild Things Are is a universally beloved childhood favorite. That’s probably because it’s a lot of fun, but also a little bit scary, and Maurice Sendak never coddles or placates the reader. The friendly monsters called “Wild Things” are so well and mysteriously named that its perplexing that Sendak only called the book what he did to solve a problem. He’d initially planned to write Where the Wild Horses Are. Except that when he sat down to illustrate, he had a really hard time drawing horses. Horses became “Things” and the book’s name changed, too.  

    Tomorrow is Another Day, by Margaret Mitchell
    Let’s get real: Gone with the Wind is a powerful, epic tale of war, love, self-respect, proto-feminism, and believing in onself…but it’s also a bit of a soap opera. As such, Margaret Mitchell nearly stuck her Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel with a number of soapy titles, such as Tote the Weary Load, Bugles Sang True, and Not in Our Stars. Still, the book almost went to print under the name Tomorrow is Another Day…even though that’s a total spoiler for the book’s moving final line. Ultimately Mitchell found the best title from “Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae,” a poem by 19th century French poet Ernest Dowson. 

    Something That Happened, by John Steinbeck
    John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is history’s second-best Great Depression novel, second only to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of WrathAs such, it’s a sad tale about desperate men doing desperate things, and Steinbeck reportedly wanted to make sure that the novel didn’t judge the characters one way or the other for the book’s violent conclusion. He tried to express that by going full objective journalism for the title, which is so nonjudgmental that it’s kind of hilarious. He changed his mind when he found some words that said the same thing, that humans are victims of fate, only more poetically. They were in a poem, in fact: Robert Burns’ “Of Mice and Men.” 

    The Last Man in Europe, by George Orwell
    Up until a few months before publication, Orwell was going to call, his novel about a future dystopian totalitarian state in which Big Brother was always watching The Last Man in Europe. At virtually the last minute, Orwell’s publishers asked him to come up something more commercial than what sounds like a book about the last human alive after a zombie apocalypse. His solution: the blunt, ominous far-off futuristic year in which the scary book took place: 1984.  

    Trimalchio in West Egg, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested many high-fallutin’ titles for what ultimately became The Great Gatsby, his book about the rise and fall of the personification of the American Dream in the Jazz Age. Under the Red, White, and Blue was a little too on the nose, as was Gold-Hatted Gatsby. The High-Bounding Lover was just a little-too-1920s. Fitzgerald also really wanted to call his book Trimalchio in West Egg. The latter part reflects the book’s setting; the first part is a literary reference to Trimalchio, a character who enjoys life in obscene excess in the 1st century Roman book The Satyricon. 

    Panasonic, by Don DeLillo
    DeLillo’s meditation on modern life and its many pollutants was titled Panasonic reportedly up to the last round of galleys. But then the Matsushita Corporation, which controlled the trademark of the well-known consumer electronics company, wouldn’t grant permission. So White Noise it was.

    What working titles of classic books are you glad were ultimately revised?

    The post 6 Classic Books That Almost Had Completely Different Titles appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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