#RPGaDay Day 28: Surprisingly Unseen

Today’s #RPGaDay Question:

What film or novel would you be most surprised that a friend had not seen or read? 

  • We all have ‘shelves of shame’ full of books or films we want to read or watch, but have not. What would you be most surprised to learn that a person in your game group had not seen or read?

I have heard it called a shelf of shame, but when it’s mine I tend to see it as the pile of possibility. When it belongs to someone else, I think of it as the Shelf of Surprise. I think of it in all caps like that, too. It is expected. It is a real thing, an object created by each of us that marks the paths not yet taken – perhaps never to be taken. What surprises await on that shelf of unread books and movies?

I go into a lot more detail in the video (10 minutes!) and the reason for that is that the video covers the idea of how the books we read as children and used as the fuel for our gaming fires do not always survive in print for later waves of kids to uncover. Books that I could commonly find in the book store as a teen have quietly slipped from view and off the commercial racks, only to be found in specialty shops and the like.

The same holds true for old games. Without those special vendors like Wayne’s Books and Noble Knight, a lot of desires to share a beloved game from a past decade would go unfulfilled.

We are surprised when we see the so-called shelf of shame because the books are some combination of common and important. It’s like the person had heard of cereal but has no idea what Corn Flakes are. It’s surprising, or even shocking sometimes.

Living as far away from my starting point as I do, I don’t often expect to meet people who have read the same books or authors that I do. My rare visits home have shown me it is harder to find book stores and harder to find recognizable books on their shelves. Without the rise of the Kindle and the urges of some publishers to fill out their catalog with older material, I might not see anything that gives me the urge to read it. All of this makes me think that bloggers like Jeffro Johnson have a point when they discuss how the games that have survived from the 70s are growing more and more incomprehensible and accessible to newer gamers interested in trying them out, not because they are so arcane of system, but because the expectations of the authors of what might be a common language of visualization simply isn’t anymore.  The things that once were ubiquitous no longer are.

I suspect they never were. Doesn’t Ozymandias hint at such?

Regardless, despite this fear of loss and the sense it builds in me that if we do not share these prizes and their contexts they will be forgotten, I still feel that sense of surprise when I spot the shelf or stack of unread treasures a person has allowed to build. I still get that sense of surprise when in conversation a reference to Elric, or an Eco plot, or a King character sails past like the Mary Celeste… if I am lucky. At least that seaborne mystery was investigated.

Among the things that are still very common, easy to get, in wide circulation, with publisher support, that are good, that I feel I can legitimately feel surprise over someone not having read, I would put a series like The Saga of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Yet, I am often faced with blank stares on this one. I have grown used to my classics being unknown or unread, so I recognize that it is to demographic-crossing authors with significant social impact and longevity not only on the shelf, but of their bodies that I must turn for this question’s answer.

Books that I know are not just of value to readers like me, and that I am surprised to discover have not been read by people at or near my age are works like King’s The Stand, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Tower. I still recommend that people seek out and read Foucault’s Pendulum and the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I expect people to have seen Blade Runner or to want to, and to have read William Gibson’s books deeply and often.

I am often surprised, but I live in hope. Not too long ago a student in one of my classes was reading Neuromancer and she was smiling and nodding…. of course the beautiful first line for her cast the book in a strange light as she, in her youth and lack of experience of the tech of mine, imagined a sunny, cloudless sky of pure blue.


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