Thursday, September 26, 2013

To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable Path Adventure

I have a very long, constantly growing to-read list, and I get in a bad habit of buying or borrowing too many books at a time. Especially when I go a little crazy at the library, I tend to end up with a big backlog of books I've been meaning to read, but this one is due back in a week. At the point that I realized I had a pile of books next to my bed that was almost as tall as my bed, I made a hard and fast resolution not to so much as look at any other book until I'd finished the whole stack. And I was off to a good start, too. Then To Be Or Not To Be came in the mail.
Amazon    B&N   Breadpig    Goodreads
I backed the Kickstarter for this book, what, maybe a year ago? and have been giddily awaiting its arrival ever since. This is a choose your own adventure book for grown ups, written by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics fame and based on the immortal play Hamlet, by my bud Billy Shakes. The concept alone was enough to hook me, and apparently everyone else too, because the campaign soared past its initial goal. What that meant practically (among other things) is that all of the endings (read: gruesome deaths), and there are many of them, are illustrated by some of my favorite webcomic artists from around the 'net.

The book itself is over 700 pages long, and you can "play" as Hamlet, Hamlet Sr., or Ophelia, both through the events of the play and minor and hilariously significant deviations from it. Each storyline is full of gags, hilariously over the top violence, and snarky commentary (and so much more snark the closer you get to the actual play. Reading this has definitely made me realize how very goofy and problematic the original text of Hamlet can be), and at the end of each one, a beautiful illustration. Perfect.

As with all choose your own adventure stories, there are plenty of missteps to make, but unlike most, there isn't really one definitive "good" ending - especially because the "one true ending" isn't exactly happy. Instead, there are lots of deviations, both happy and disastrous, as North riffs on some of the more ridiculous aspects of the play. He also expands, modernizes, and colloquializes the characters and language really nicely. It's like having a really funny dude tell you the story of Hamlet, only you get to pick what the characters do (and sometimes get made fun of for your choices). There are also a whole host of games-within-the-adventure, including but not limited to: an actual game of chess, a game show style trivia quiz, a book within the book, and a text based adventure game (I'm not even kidding).

I can't remember any book making me laugh out loud as hard or as consistently as this one, and, seriously, if you like Dinosaur Comics, or if you like Shakespearean lit and have a good sense of humor, To Be Or Not To Be is a real gem. It's smart, funny, and good looking - what else would you want to spend your Saturday night with! Best part? He's doing one for Romeo & Juliet next.

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