80 Days: Sometimes the Best Book Is an App

Game art for 80 Days, featuring a man with goggles driving in front of a large globe and a mechanical camel conveyance behind him.

Books are dead. Long live books!

There’s been more hand-wringing over the state of the written word this fall than perhaps since the time of the Greek philosophers, who despaired that the newfangled technology of writing would lead to book-lovin’ youth isolating themselves to devour the written word. This would result in loss of memory and a sense of community with their peers and . . . well, you see where they were going with that. And honestly, I’ve been wrestling with how to address these crazed concerns—not just that people aren’t reading, but that they’re not reading the right things! Capital-L literature is dying, cue the sirens!

I believe the ideal book is the one that gives the reader what she most needs at the moment. Whether you’re reading for pleasure or knowledge, the right book is the one that functions as desired. And, sometimes, the book is an app!

On the sage advice of Robin Sloan’s (author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore) most excellent email newsletter, I decided to try 80 Days, an iOS app for iPad and iPhone. It’s based on the classic 1872 Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, where the English gentleman Phileas Fogg accepts a bet to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Armed only with a small sum of money and his new valet, Passepartout, Fogg sets out to prove the naysayers wrong in a novel full of suspense and intrigue that puts The Amazing Race to shame. The app does this classic novel justice, and more.

Whether you’re reading for pleasure or knowledge,
the right book is the one that functions as desired.

This app is a novel retelling of the original story in Choose Your Own Adventure style—you play as Passepartout and scramble to interact with other characters, discover connections between cities, and learn about strange new machines that fly, dig, and pose as humans. It’s a UK product from Inkle studios and the text has been nominated for the UK Writer’s Guild Awards! So it’s much more than an app, and much more than a book; it absolutely captures your imagination and engages you in the story. While the core of the story is all Verne’s, strategic embellishments and imaginative twists fuse Fogg and Passepartout’s narrative to something that a generation raised on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? will respond to eagerly. In 80 Days, the past has been reimagined as a rich steampunk paradise, where Artificers ply their trade, scientists discover holes in time, automatons populate the landscape, and strange conveyances take you to stranger lands. These changes honor the amazing technological achievements of Fogg’s time while also invoking some of the original novel’s amazement for the modern-day reader: no easy feat.

So let the naysayers nag all they like—stories ain’t dead yet. In fact, this one is still expanding. Android and Kindle Fire versions of 80 Days drop December 16, and iOS users can download a free update the same day with a bonus story pack. As Passepartout might say, “allons-y!

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About the Author:

Erin Downey Howerton is a public librarian in Kansas. Follow her on Twitter at @hybridlib.

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