Originally published in 2006, Cathy’s Book, on the surface, seems like the diary of a teenage girl. But once you open the cover, the cold, hard evidence falls right into your lap, and you’re hooked. Chinese restaurant menus, phone numbers, and websites, all contain very real information and real voicemail responses pertinent to the story. Cathy is ultimately trying to figure out why her boyfriend dumped her, but when you start to dig into the facts, it turns out there is more going on than just a sour break-up.
The story is still going strong into the newer technology with its app readers can download to solve the mystery on the go. And the authors even expanded it into a trilogy to maximize the amount of detective work you can truly get your hands on.
2. S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
From the outside, though, you won’t be able to find the book from that title. No, what you need to look for is “Ship of Theseus” by V.M. Straka. Confused? So am I.
What looks like a century-old library book is actually Abrams’ and Dorst’s creation of a story within a story—the ultimate framed novel. It revolves around two college students, originally strangers to each other, writing notes back and forth in a textbook they use for class. They ultimately are aiming to uncover the mystery surrounding the author of their book while readers aim to uncover the mystery of theirs. It’s no wonder there are so many questions revolving around the book—Abrams was an executive producer of “Lost,” posing just as many, if not more questions to its audience.
The book is designed to look like an unreturned library book, complete with a Dewey Decimal sticker on the spine and no publishing information other than the byline of fictional author Straka. And there are pullouts like postcards and notes on napkins that add to the multiple-story dimension. You’ll have to devote some time and brain power, but this book is not only beautiful to look at, it is an outstanding work of literature.
3. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries
For fans of the classics—Jane Austen, in particular—look no further than this modern adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” Developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, this vlog series is a yearlong diary of Lizzie, her sisters, her best friend Charlotte, and eventually, Darcy. Filled with humor, light-heartedness, and sometimes for Lizzie, unexpected interruptions, this series is not only entertaining, but it’s different enough that you won’t feel like you’re reading the exact same story over and over again.
The series originally premiered in 2010 and concluded at its 100th episode, but the story didn’t necessarily end there. Lovers of the written word, don’t worry. The book form of this modern-day classic re-vamp just hit shelves this summer.
4. Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman
It’s written as a young adult book, but I got scared as I clicked around on the Sarah Fincher website. It’s more of an adventure/ghost story than an average teen book. This series comes riddled with passwords and information to get you past the home screen on the site, ultimately unlocking Blair-Witch-Project-style videos made by two teens trying to solve a town mystery.
The plot centers on Ryan and Sarah exploring the “Dredge,” an abandoned seabed-like quarry that is haunted by the ghost of “Old Joe Bush.” There’s a lot of trying to keep the kids away after Ryan breaks his leg, so not only are the teens spotting and running from ghosts, but they also have to hide from their parents and forest rangers.
The passwords are pretty impossible to guess, so doing it as an interactive book experience is the best way to get the full effect. And a warning: This is actually pretty spooky, so unless you’re really brave, only do the video portions in the daylight with witnesses nearby.
5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Another story-inside-a-story mystery, this one doesn’t so much involve external components like the others, it is more just the way readers interact with the book while reading it that makes it unique. Photojournalist Will and his family move into a small town and discover their house is smaller on the outside than it is on the inside. More problems ensue when their children wander off and their voices begin to replay another buried story. And all this is being uncovered by the actual narrator of the book.
But on top of the creepy setting and creepy children’s voices, the physical book is an experience in itself. Between the vertical footnotes, the colored text, and the one-word pages toward the back half of the book, you’ve got to be sure you’re ready to flip and move the book so you can read all the words. An adventure story at heart, this book is also an adventure itself because of its physical nature and your need to be physical with the book.
6. The Amanda Project by Melissa Kantor
Begun in 2009 as an Internet scavenger hunt of sorts, the Amanda Project was published into a tangible book by Harper Collins in the same year. The website began with 150 beta testers but quickly grew to incorporate thousands of contributors. The eventual goal was to find the missing fictional Amanda, and the way to do that was through thousands of people’s stories, artwork, comments, and theories about the character. Melissa Kantor penned the books under the impression that Callie, one of Amanda’s friends, was telling her the story as she went.
The book series ends up answering questions that were posed as the story was originally unfolding in 2009, but it is still interesting if you haven’t read the books yet. There are additional forums with conspiracy theories about mysteries even the books didn’t solve for some readers and contributors, as well as some introductory posts if you want to join in on the fun.
7. Loser Queen
A loser shooting up to stardom is what drives the plot for Jodi Lynn Anderson’s “Loser Queen.” And in true Pretty Little Liars fashion, the main character, Cammy, keeps getting mysterious texts leading her straight to the most popular kids’ secrets, and suddenly Cammy is face-to-face with possibilities.
The interactive portion on this one is a little more elusive now, but in 2010 when the project began, every Monday, readers could read a new update from Cammy and vote on her next decision. In December 2010, the final book was published so readers could see all their chosen options in true story format. The official site is down now, but you can still see the trailer, and it’s still a fun book to read knowing that the ultimate outcome was determined solely by its participants.
8. Spellspinner series by Heidi Kling
Most of these so far in the list have been already published, but here’s one you can participate in right now. Only three of nine planned books are published, and they’re adult versions of choose-your-own-ending books. In this fantasy series, witch and warlock covens in California have been sparring for a century. 16-year-olds Lily and Logan meet in a sort of Romeo-and-Juliet-esque storyline, and the books take off from there. The series starter is currently free for Kindle, so head there quickly to get started in this immersive experience.
There are points throughout the e-book reading experience that allow you to decide where you want to go next, and by the time you hit book three, these answers will be saved and sent to the publisher and author. Coliloquy books are networked, which means the authors can see readers’ decisions and use these to guide future installments of the series.
9. Trackers by Patrick Carman
For those interested in a gaming atmosphere combined with stories, Trackers is the right series for you. Though it is marketed as a children’s book, the complicated games, missions, and puzzles prove it’s not too easy for adults, either. The concept is to catch a mastermind thief, and along the way, readers are given challenges to complete, whether it’s watching “encrypted” videos or beating the thief out at a mind-bender on the computer.
The books are written in the form of an interview with a detective, so it’s a lot like approaching the topic as the information is unfolding inside the police station. A team of Trackers is infiltrated, and they’re out to catch the perp. And rather than solely sticking to one alternative form, Carman has used text, video, and games to combine his story into one, cohesive hunt for the hacker.
10. This is Not Tom
Possibly the strangest and most complex of interactive reading experiences is published in a series of websites titled “This Is Not Tom." In 2009, John Green (yes, THAT John Green, author of the Fault in Our Stars) published a quick narrative on his website calling nerdfighteria to help him with a series of online riddles. And these were no ordinary riddles—some took days and thousands of people to solve together. There are even forums with detailed discussions because of the confusing and complex nature of the project. Turns out, the creator behind the riddles, Alexander Basalyga, a student at Penn State, made them for fun. After Green received a series of strange emails from a mysterious woman and participated in an even more unsettling Skype interview, he decided to start penning a short novella around the woman’s story and hide it in the riddles.
Sound insane? Even Green thought so. Apparently, after dozens of messages from a woman claiming to have no access to her own identity and experiencing virtual-reality encounters with David Foster Wallace, Green contacted Basalyga, and the two began to draft her story behind the riddles. After a series of daunting puzzles is solved, chapters of the novella are unlocked, and readers can explore the strange non-reality of YFN (Your Faithful Narrator), the main character. And it’s John Green, and everyone is looking for something else to read from this astounding novelist.
Have you read any of these? I just downloaded the Spellspinner Book 1, so I plan on giving that a go soon!