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Prospective Literary Fitness Apps

“[Zombies, Run!] is an audio adventure that features missions in which the runner tries to escape from a horde of the undead while picking up survival gear along the way. The app … offers more than 200 missions, including one with the author Margaret Atwood, who is holed up in a tower and offering zombie intel.”
“Wearable Gear and Apps to Make Running Healthier, and a Lot More Fun,” The New York Times, November 5, 2014

Other literary fitness apps in development:

Run, Rabbit, Run! You are Rabbit Angstrom, navigating the anomie of married life in suburban Pennsylvania, in John Updike’s masterly fitness-app tetralogy. Exercise challenges include sexual assignations with wife, ex-girlfriends, and assorted daughters of friends and business associates, as well as occasional games of pickup basketball. Once you master the first level with the 26-year-old protagonist, advance to increasingly risky fitness trials as Rabbit passes through middle age in Rabbit Redux and Rabbit Is Rich and enters old age in Rabbit at Rest.

Carry Home Joyce Carol Oates’s Collected Works. This app challenges you to check out and carry home from the public library every volume the prolific author has published. You can start small with the 14 collections of essays and memoirs or the 12 novellas; or, for a tougher challenge, heft the 51 novels and 38 short-story collections; or, for the most advanced, the entire oeuvre, including the books published under pen names. (Consult a health professional before attempting.)

Run, Gary, Run! Help the young Gary Shteyngart, recently arrived from the Soviet Union, make his way safely back home from the Solomon Schechter School of Queens. You may play as the asthmatic, heavily accented Gary, as one of his overbearing immigrant parents, or as a xenophobic Hebrew-school bully.

Making Dinner With Karl Ove Knausgård. Be sure to clear several hours for this arduous domestic-realist experience. You leave your Stockholm apartment with your toddler and infant, make your way to the upscale grocery store, brood over the implications of potential purchases, cart the food home, fight with your partner, and finally cook and eat the meal, all the time weighed down by a Scandinavian sense of ennui. (Avoid the punishment round, in which you take your toddler to a mommy-and-me music class and experience shame at your inappropriate desire for the young instructor.)

Literary Gatekeeper. In this lightning-quick test of your reflexes, judgment, and snobbery, you are a snooty gatekeeper of the literary establishment. You’ll build upper-body strength as you maintain standards by denying popular writers access to the sacred precincts of Literature, knocking them into the lower levels of YA, chick lit, fantasy, horror, or fan fiction. Declare “You shall not pass!” to such celebrity opponents as Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner, Veronica Roth, George R.R. Martin, and Suzanne Collins. Game can be played in either the fast-paced New York Publishing mode or the slower, more patronizing Academia mode.

Maintain Your Anonymity: Celebrity Author Half-Marathon. Playing as either Elena Ferrante or Thomas Pynchon, run a strenuous half-marathon while maintaining your anonymity, evading paparazzi and would-be interviewers, fans, and stalkers. Avoid such temptations as honorary degrees, ego-stroking photo shoots, Charlie Rose chats, and lucrative speaking engagements as you sprint unrecognized to the finish line. Ferrante may run in either the men’s or the women’s race.

Haruki Murakami’s Find the Missing Cat. You are an aimless young man searching for your missing cat, guided by the advice of a pair of whimsical psychic sisters. You’ll get a real workout wandering through a spooky contemporary Tokyo that is part real, part dreamscape, and occasionally venturing into mini-adventures in which you play, for example, a captured Japanese soldier forced to watch his comrade skinned alive before you are left to die at the bottom of a well. Work on those jumping and climbing skills, or you’ll never get out alive and find that darn cat!

Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Work Out? In this cerebral talking-about-exercise app, you play either “Sheila” or her best friend, visual artist “Margaux,” as they engage in meandering philosophical debates with a host of other Toronto artists and writers about the most effective ways to get into shape and lose those holiday pounds.

Nobel Prize Keep Away. Run a virtual obstacle course as either Patrick Modiano or Alice Munro, evading such bitter, resigned, or supposedly indifferent longtime Nobel hopefuls as Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami, who attempt to wrest the prize from your hands before their own deaths (at which point their Nobel eligibility also expires). Watch out for Roth—he may be “retired,” but he’s still as quick as a fox! In advanced levels, evade the ghosts of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road With James Franco. Journey with your son across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape devoid of almost all life aside from the occasional cannibal. Keep up that heart rate—and keep that heart out of the hands of the cannibals! Author James Franco is holed up in a tree offering cannibal intel (Cormac McCarthy was not available).

Ivan Kreilkamp is a professor of English at Indiana University at Bloomington and co-editor of the journal Victorian Studies.

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