Kristen Hanley Cardozo’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.
17. The Race Forever
The grim reality of her place in a capitalist society is early forced upon the child reader. The futility of the race is apparent in its construction. In a race that never ends, you can never win. All your labor goes to the entertainment and profit of others. You will race. You will race forever. It will never end.
31. Vampire Express
Clearly an Objectivist tract, as evidenced by A. the obsession with trains, and B. the fear of a parasitic vampiric class sucking the lifeblood of the producer class. The terrifying dependence on human blood, symbolic of the looter state’s dependence on the vital producers, is seen to increase in speed. Children are prepared by this screed to fight back against the vampiric state and its overweening influence in the life of the individual.
You are a shark. You are an expressionless, powerful, death machine, top of the food chain, balancer of the scales of ecology. You are a total fucking badass. You are a shark.
48. Spy for George Washington
A Cold War production, this title anticipates the demands of the United States upon its citizens in the coming decades. Serving the patriotic Law of the Father is framed as a necessity. The title’s very fluidity suggests both an identity and an imperative. You are a spy for George Washington. You must spy for George Washington. One suspects this may have been an NSA recruitment tool.
50. Return to the Cave of Time
Time, we are taught, is a linear affair. This title, however, removes its reader from the ever-progressing time of Chronos and reverts to the circular time of Kairos. By returning to the cave (a Platonic reference?) in which time is both contained and accessible, life is lived as a rhythm or a season, rather than an endless forward pitch. Perhaps a response to and against The Race Forever?
You are a representation of the abject. You are an uncanny reflection of society’s ills, writ large and terrifying on the body. You are a monster.
99. Revenge of the Russian Ghost
In Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story “The Overcoat,” the bourgeois demands of society upon a bureaucrat lead to his ruin and death, after which his ghost haunts St. Petersburg, snatching the symbols of his destruction from passersby. Fyodor Dostoyevsky is said to have remarked of this story, “We all come out from Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.” Here, however, the ghost of “The Overcoat” becomes the ghost of Russia herself. The end of the Cold War in sight, a future in which a defeated USSR sleeps unquiet looms on the horizon, suggesting that even death is not an end, anf victory will lead to repercussion.
100. The Worst Day of Your Life
Choose your own adventure, the series promises, but this title hisses that all choice leads to the realization of your most secret fears. Choose what you will. It is still the worst day of your life.
A journey into xenophobia fueled by the established fever dream of American exceptionalism. Youngsters learn to identify with a group and to reject the outsider’s intrusion. Home for the Other, it is implied, cannot be where we are. The emphatic exclamation point suggests a passionate fervor of intense parochial insularity.
130. You Are Microscopic
You are unimaginably miniscule. The futility of your effort leaves no trace on your world, which is vast beyond all ability to see your tiny strivings. God is unknowable; the fall of the sparrow goes unobserved. You are microscopic.
131. Surf Monkeys
The simian is carried forth on a cresting wave that is simultaneously beyond her control and utilized for her entertainment, a perfect metaphor for humankind’s hubris.
142. The Reality Machine
An introduction to Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought experiment, which was intended to show the limitations of Hedonism as a philosophy. The heightened reality created by the machine replaces the humdrum reality of everyday experience, indistinguishable once the user is plugged in. The young reader is asked to consider whether or not we should plug into the false reality and what effect it might have upon our humanity.
Although the reader has by now been taught to fear the Other, You Are an Alien turns the message on its head, declaring that the Other is you. You thought the enemy came from without, but it was within you all along. You are an alien.
Either a story of celestial preserves or a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of 1996’s box office smash Space Jam. Either way, this entry in the CYOA series is pandering at an insulting level.
159. Tattoo of Death
A reference to Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” Children are warned that to mark their skin is to invite holy wrath upon their unworthy heads.
Kristen Hanley Cardozo writes and knits in between reliving embarrassing moments in her past in excruciating detail.