Reading “Now What? The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books” in the New Yorker, we were excited to learn about a kid’s book series we’d missed and so would have the pleasure of diving into. Wildly popular in the 70s and 80s, the books invited the reader to decide which way to go at numerous crossroads throughout the text that would yield very different experiences. They had agency to make decisions but not in the outcome, which seems to us to be the essence of just about any creative endeavor, and life.
The story of how the books came to be and the masterminds behind it is remarkable. But for us, it was the very last paragraphs of the piece that struck home. Andrea, the daughter of one of the creators, went on to write some of the books herself and felt that part of their great value is that they illuminate the value of regret.
Regret doesn’t have to contaminate experience. It can inspire you to make choices that are different from the ones you made before. When Andrea tells you this, you remember an ex-boyfriend who had a tattoo—well, many tattoos—but this particular tattoo was on his wrist: know regrets…
In real life, most choices are impossible to unmake. But you keep having to make new ones. Maybe that’s where know regrets comes into play. Regret can’t change the past, but it can change the future. Life isn’t a Choose Your Own Adventure, but these books prepared you to feel exhilarated and terrified by all the choices you would someday make. They gave you a way to understand that no ending is really an ending. After every ending, you have to figure out what to do next.
Having never really though through the conventional wisdom that “a life well-lived is a life without regrets”, we found this unorthodox view illuminating, affirming and very wise. It makes us realize what a gift having a choice is.
CAVEAT: After reading the New Yorker article, we immediately ordered a Choose Your Own Adventure Book on Amazon. We were dismayed to find it had been updated to include LEDs, the latest computer circuitry, and other details of modern life, along with an off-puttingly large-type. We prefer the originals which are wildly available on Ebay for roughly the same price as the updated versions. Search “vintage choose your own adventure books” and make sure the copyright is from the 1970s and/or 1980s.