Skip to main content

Take a Look, It's in a Book

The second of March is important to this blog for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, it marks the beginning of life for Never Say Dice co-founder Bugsy... who happens to share a birthday with the author Dr. Seuss. While his legacy may have seen some controversy over the years, especially these last few, it's spawned another thing important to this blog: Read Across America Week. While that particular holiday week isn’t something we at NSD had in our formative school years, reading is a pursuit that's been important to both of us throughout our lives and continues to be. After all, we couldn’t ask you to read this blog every week, or even have the background in TTRPGs and other games it takes to write this blog if we didn’t
support  and appreciate reading  for its own sake. Reading is fun and mental. - A

A: I can go anywhere. I can be anything. These lyrics are part of the Reading Rainbow theme song. The show was a way to bring children into the world of reading and a mainstay of my childhood. Thankfully, it's continued on to subsequent generations.  Perhaps those messages of going anywhere and being anything are why the act of reading has become so political (or maybe it was always so political. Or maybe people who don’t read just really hate rainbows). Reading brings knowledge, and that brings power, and those who already have power tend not to want to share it. Perhaps that's another reason tabletop games have been maligned for so long: you can go anywhere and be anything in those as well. Reading has sent out those messages' frequency and TTRPGs help to amplify that signal. It isn’t any wonder why both are so important to me. Both reading and tabletop games have gotten me through a number of rough patches in my life. Even if you’re only attempting to use either of them as a form of escapism, you’re still learning. We shouldn't malign those trying to  pass that knowledge on to our youth, for we, too, were once in the position of gaining that power - the power to read and gain knowledge for ourselves. To go our own places and be our own things. Read Across America may just seem like a school thing, but really it's for everyone so we can save ourselves. So please, find the time, even if it isn’t this week, to stop for a few moments and read something.  Bugsy, why does reading continue to be so important to you?

B: I, too was a voracious reader... if not quite as voracious as I wanted to be - my eyes were often bigger than my (metaphorical) stomach when it came to bringing home piles of books from the library. But even if I couldn't get through everything I wanted, I was utterly dedicated to books and would burn through my schoolwork so I could get back to whatever book I had with me... looking back, I'm surprised my teachers were all so tolerant of it. Every year, my sister and I participated in the "Book It!" program put on by the schools in conjunction with Pizza Hut, where you'd be given a button and stickers to put on it, one for every book you read. If you got five, you'd get a personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut. It was a smaller chain then, or at least it was here, so those were the only times we went there, linking them forever in my mind. It was a little prescient, I suppose, thinking of it as a place only accessed through reading and imagination, as the chain would soon reinvent itself as fast food with a focus on delivery, and the dim and smokey dine-in eatery relegated solely to memory.

Looking back, the emphasis that programs like Book It! had on quantity seems odd. They didn't care what books the kids read, as long as they read a sufficient number of them (something we never had a problem with, naturally). The kids weren't reading enough on their own, went the reasoning, and that's what has to be addressed. Maybe it's because I was being rewarded for something I was already doing on my own, but it feels a little hollow now, treating young readers solely as consumers of the least-discerning kind. I wish there had been more encouragement to engage with the texts, even at a kids' level: why did you like this book (if you even did, being critical of a work should serve as a barrier to pizza)? How did it make you feel, and how do you think the author achieved this? What do you think they were trying to say? I'm not saying that college-level literary analysis should be foisted on six-year-olds (although I'm not not saying that), but I think my own relationship with text might have developed faster had it been more encouraged. Since the books I was reading on my own were wildly different than anything I had for school, it would have been a great opportunity for in-depth examination beyond simply burning through them.

Today, of course, we seem to have gone the opposite way, with great concern from all corners about the content of books available to young readers. The phenomenon of online outrage over "problematic" content in books, resulting in at a number of publications being delayed or outright cancelled, is far too complex to get into here, but I do find the relationship of content to readership here interesting. When someone is upset about the content of a book yet to be published, what's the underlying nature of their concern? Is that young readers might carelessly absorb unhealthy worldviews through the kind of unexamined reading that once earned me Book It! stars? In that case, directing ire towards authors and publishers seems a less productive approach than trying to encourage more thoughtful reading - otherwise it's a constant game of "whack-a-mole" going from book to book, author to author, publisher to publisher (although I'm sure that's still a factor for some participants). Not to mention that it's a belittling attitude towards perspective readers, the very group doing the complaining! An alternative is that they don't want to see the shared community "space" to become polluted and unwelcoming, the world of imagination bounded by the kinds of cultural superstructures that once dictated the kinds of books that could be written (by, for, and about certain categories of people) and are currently causing havoc and misery in the real world. Presented with increasing powerlessness over their own lives, it's easy to see how someone might be overprotective of even small gains in the imaginative space of books. But, ultimately, I think this concern is misdirected, often aimed at writers ostensibly on the same side, but making their points clumsily, all while the actual forces of oppression spread hate and cruelty unabated.

The recent wave of book bannings and shamings is utterly horrifying, and, as always, symptomatic of wider oppressive movements. No longer feeling the need to hide their motives behind outrage over specific words or scenes, the current censorship movent takes its cues from its most destructive predecessors and outright attacks ideas directly. Stories and lived experiences by marginalized are to be wiped out - their very identities are described as "pornographic" or even (unironically using one of the Nazis' favorite terms) "degenerate." There is no distinction between the books, their contents, the act of reading them, or the thoughts and opinions a reader might derive: it all must be eliminated. They know that the written word is the path to empathy and understanding, and it's harder to sell hate if people can empathize with the people they're told to hate.

All of this brings us back to Dr. Seuss. Before he was a childrens' author, he was a cartoonist who, well before the US's entry into the war, recognized and called out the dangers of fascism both abroad and at home. This included the same kind of minority demonization and censorship enacted today. He also engaged in some of it himself through racist caricatures of Japanese soldiers and leadership, but showed his integrity by apologizing for this later in his life rather than denying that it had happened, accusing the people bringing it up of oversensitivity, or blaming the zeitgeist of his era. Dr. Seuss was a visionary who put on paper the kind of imagination and joy our system beats out of the young, but it's this integrity as much as those achievements that make me proud to share a birthday with him. And the best gift for both of us would be just as Andy and Read Across America urge: read. Read what you like, read something you don't know if you like, and think about what you've read. Talk about the ideas, the feelings, what happened in the story and what didn't. It's easy to take books for granted, even those of us who filled up Book It! buttons. Taking the time to appreciate what they are, what they mean, and what they can do is the act of celebration they and their creators deserve.

Send comments and questions to or Tweet them @neversaydice2 until Twitter disappears like an '80s personal pan pizza.


Popular posts from this blog

An Introduction to Risus

While roaming the internet in the late nineties/early noughties, I came across a TTRPG that was rules-lite and called itself “the anything RPG.” Want to play a high school cheerleader/samurai-in-training part-time goth enthusiast fast food cashier? The hot pink stick figure art glared back at me. Nah, not interested. But I was wrong. The stick figures were actually purple, and Risus is a surprisingly versatile, handy and down right fun TTRPG. I wouldn’t figure that out though till I discovered it again several years later. Even though it was written as a comedy system (and somewhat lighthearted response to GURPS) you really can use it for just about anything: space opera, high fantasy, pulp, vampires,western, any movie setting you could think of...seriously anything. You can read a far more detailed and interesting history in a number of other places should it strike your fancy. It is time for your Risus indoctrination introduction. Risus really is versatile and fairly easy to learn

[Backstory Redacted] - Getting Ready to Run Paranoia

Greetings, Citizens! For scheduling reasons Due to Commie sabotage, the benevolent and exceptionally well-prepared individuals in charge of Never Say Dice have chosen to follow up the recent Paranoia post with another, this time about what you need to do before the game. Readers unfamiliar with Paranoia should take this opportunity to educate themselves before their ignorance is discovered and punished, and any readers uninterested in Paranoia should join the line for the nearest Termination Booth forming here . Please fill out the Citizen Satisfaction Survey before stepping into the booth. Have a pleasant daycycle! When we last spoke, I had covered the setting and talked a little about my first (successful) Paranoia session, but closed without sharing the lessons I had learned from my years of running the game. Players: Welcome to Alpha Complex, Six Death Minimum I must admit to having a certain advantage in my pool of available players that other Gamemasters might not: I live in

Be a Grinch! (in a Tabletop RPG)

The Holidays may be almost over (for a while), and we hope you’ve all enjoyed your seasonal music and movies/specials. We here at Never Say Dice have covered the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special and the new LEGO edition a few posts ago. A common thing many of us into tabletop RPGS like to do is incorporate media into our games. After all, many of us have grown up with the blending of media and the holidays as a given. It provides us a framework to build on and a common touchpoint to the people at our tables, virtual or otherwise. One classic character featured in holiday specials and commemorated in his own song is the Grinch, the avocado-green villain with strange cardiac growth problems apparently linked to his personality. The Grinch, villain though he may be, has a slew of characteristics that would make the character an excellent one at the gaming table. Those of you not familiar with Suess-lore may really only know the Grinch from the How the Grinch Stole Christmas animated

The Mission Will Be Very Safe and Fun for Everyone: Some Thoughtcrimes on Running Paranoia

  I'm sorry citizen, but the question "why hasn't there been a Paranoia post in over fifteen months" cannot be processed. Records indicate that the previous post, " [Backstory Redacted] - Getting Ready to Run Paranoia " was activated in the Year 214 of the Computer, and, as this is currently Year 214 of the Computer, your internal chronometer must be malfunctioning. Rumors that is has always been Year 214 of the Computer are treason. Please report to Internal Security for cerebral re-adjustment. Have a nice daycycle. So, why hasn't there been a post about Paranoia in fifteen months, anyway? The previous two have been quite popular , and, as I'm fond of saying, I've put more thought into this game than nearly anything else in my life, formal education included. As time went on, I found myself procrastinating on the follow-up. I didn't have enough time to work out everything I'd want to cover, I'd tell myself, or that some other top