the contextual life

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You Must Read: Love is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life

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Anyone familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure books—the stories written in the second person where middle grade readers, after a few paragraphs, are given options as to how they’d like the character to proceed—will take one glance at Love is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life and wonder if someone is playing a trick on them. Or at least that’s what I thought when I first saw a copy in the bookstore.

The book was placed prominently at the checkout counter and as the bookseller was ringing me up I couldn’t resist. “I used to love these,” I said. As I picked it up and thumbed through I asked, “did you ever read these?” Unfortunately for the bookseller, he hadn’t experienced the wonders of these fantastic little books as a kid; and, unfortunately for me he was of little help when, to my confusion, I noticed a long string of curses on one of the pages. “I think it’s a joke,” he mumbled, or something to that effect. Not sure what to make of it, I put the book back on the display but by then it had already made an impression. The cover, so convincing in its authenticity, juxtaposed with its content, unsettlingly askew, was seared into memory.

It turns out that Love is Not Constantly Wondering isn’t a joke but a parody, a well-crafted and endearing one at that. Self-published anonymously by a 33-year-old Portland transplant, the story is based on the author’s real relationship with his alcoholic girlfriend, a time spanning from August 2002 to November 2006. His anonymity is to protect his parents from the tumultuous parts of his life as well as identity of the hard-drinking girl, Anne.

However, to his friends who will recognize him in those pages, he hopes they will now understand that the years spent with this girl, the years they spent wondering why he was putting himself through such pain, were not all bad, that there were some good moments, too, and, as Slate reported, that there was an “excitement that went hand in hand with the mess.”

To digress with a bit of interesting information, It was that Slate review that gave the book a new life. While in Portland, the Book Review Editor Dan Kois found the book at Powell’s and decided to write about it. The third printing is now being handled by the author’s friend who owns a small press. But back to the book.

I can’t speculate as to why the author decided to include a race of hostile Ant-Warriors, other than it fits with the Choose Your Own Adventure genre—the first book in the (real) series features an adventure trip to the Himalayas where you and a friend go in search of a Yeti. Intentional or not, the alien race adds to the already inhospitable landscape in which the protagonist finds himself. As often comes with addict friends, if you keep them in your life long enough, you’re bound to bear the brunt of their erratic behavior, the consequences of their poor choices, and possibly even get caught up in their legal troubles, depending on your patience and goodwill.

Unlike the series it’s based on, Love is Not Constantly Wondering is best read linearly. These choices at the bottom of the page are more for effect than instruction. They range from being abstractly related to the story to being wildly unrelated. From time to time I would g back and follow a few—“If you jump across the chasm, turn to April 26, 2006; If you decide to turn back and look for another way around, turn to June 29, 2003”—and found that even though it’s a short book, when you bounce back and forth through time, reading the story in this new order gives it an infinite feel.

In a recent interview with The Portland Mercury, the author discussed the importance of creating an authentic replication. “Producing authentic-looking zines and books is incredibly important to me. With Love I spent weeks researching how Choose Your Own Adventure books were constructed: the fonts, the amount of space between lines, the kerning, how the choices are laid out within the books.” There can be little doubt that this meticulous attention to detail pays off; even the illustrations closely mimic the originals.

As mentioned, Choose Your Own Adventure narratives are written in the second-person and so Love is Not Constantly Wondering begins:

It is a beautiful day. You walk up the stairs to the library. There is a girl sitting on the steps, smoking. She is pretty in a Virginia-Woolf-meets-Helena-Bonham-Carter-in-Fight-Club sort of way. You exchange, “I think you look interesting but I’ll be damned if I’m going to make the first move” glances, then pull the doors open and step inside.

While looking at movies you see her staring at you. And again while flipping through a pile of graphic novels. Every time you look up, she looks away. Every time she looks up, you look away. You find excuses not to leave, browsing through sections that hold no interest to you in order to prolong your opportunity to steal glances. Eventually you decide that this is getting ridiculous and you walk up to her and introduce yourself. Here is what you find out:

–Her name is Anne.
–She is 22 years old.
–She just moved here from North Carolina.
–She plays the cello.
–She is a stripper

As odd as it might sound given that the book is something of a replica, Love is Not Constantly Wondering is by far one of the most unique books I’ve read in my life (no hyperbole). It’s charming and fun, and I hope destine to become a cult classic. It’s one of those books you’ll want all your friends to read. When you find a copy (and I suggest you search high and low), buy a few and pass them around to everyone you know. It will not be the biggest mistake of your life.

::[Links]::
Buy a copy from the publisher ($5)
Slate review
Interview with the author at The Portland Mercury

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Written by Gabrielle

August 14, 2012 at 6:53 am

6 Responses

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  1. How interesting – I used to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child too so I would have had the same reaction as you at the checkout counter. I think I’ll have to pick this one up, you’ve piqued my curiosity 🙂

    letizia

    August 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

    • I want everyone to read this book! It was so much fun.

      Gabrielle

      August 14, 2012 at 8:54 am

  2. What a great post! You have left me wanting to read this book and feeling so much for the people behind the story. You’ve conveyed the rather haunting fact so well that the writer went through so much to structure his story in this particular (and rather painful?) way; I will be thinking about this for some time.

    thesocialauthor

    August 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

  3. That is such a brilliant idea for a book format! I don’t think I’d ever be able to write something in a Choose Your Own Adventure style, but I love the idea and will definitely have my eyes open if I come across this book myself. Great post!

    Evan L.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm

  4. Sounds like a very interesting and unique way to explore the ideas involved, and one that I think may strike a chord stronger than the usual memoir/biography stories you sometimes see. Just wish I lived in the US so I could order a copy.

    wonderinggrace

    August 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  5. this sounds so interesting! I’m headed to the web to track down a copy now!

    LuckyPorcupine

    August 28, 2012 at 11:52 am


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