Choose Your Own (Book Conference) Adventure

This morning, I had breakfast with Neil Patrick Harris. Well, kind of. Really I sat in the back of a BEA conference room sipping coffee and eating a protein bar while Neil stood on stage talking about his new biography, but I’m counting it. Neil, unsurprisingly, was brilliant. And even though his twist on the celebrity memoir doesn’t come out until the fall, it’s already hilarious — because it’s in Choose Your Own Adventure format.

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Being a child of the ‘80s (like me) means you knew Neil as Doogie before he was Barney — and it also probably means you loved Choose Your Own Adventure stories, a hugely popular series that made you, the reader, the main character of the book and gave you the power to make decisions that would change the course of the story. “To escape without the treasure, turn to page 83. To take your chances with the escape and try to hold onto your bag of gold, turn to page 64.”


Structuring his book, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! this way is perfect, partly because of that dose of nostalgia. But it’s also a bit of a statement about the genre — after all, we’re reading celebrity memoirs not to actually learn from their personal histories or to glean life lessons, but to feel like we’re on the inside of an elite club. Structuring a biography as a Choose Your Own Adventure, subbing out every “I” in the memoir for “you” so the reader is put in place of the celebrity, is kind of brilliant. It puts the reader at the center of the action and also puts into question our desire to be there in the first place.


This is also the perfect way to kick off the conference at Book Expo America, because the whole conference is about choosing one adventure over another. Here’s a rundown of my toughest choices today:


  • This morning, will I wait in line to meet Lemony Snicket in person (last time I saw him, he was leaping off stage into a crowd of booksellers at another BEA Breakfast), or will I go hear editors talk about the best new YA authors this year?
  • Will I take a chance in asking Alan Cumming if he remembers me (I interviewed him for The Birmingham Weekly ages ago and could barely understand his Scottish accent), or will I go meet incredible Southern author Jesmyn Ward?
  • If I skip out on seeing Billy Idol (yes, Billy Idol’s here, WHAT IN THE WORLD?!) to stand in line for B.J. Novak, will he thank me by letting me call him “Beej” like Mindy Kaling does?


There are no wrong answers, and that’s part of what’s so great about Book Expo America. There are too many good authors and talks and events to possibly get to everything I’d like to see — but too much of a good thing is part of the adventure.


Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books, and independent coffee shop in Birmingham, Alabama. This week she’s attending Book Expo America, BEA 2014, in New York.

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