Sunday, November 2, 2014

Screw "Appendix C"!

Er, okay.

What is Appendix C?

Appendix C is the list of 'classic' great books that are allegedly light years above, in terms of profundity and intellectual heft, what most people usually read. Here is a partial enumeration:

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Shakespeare, anything he wrote
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Leo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Hesiod, The Theogony
I Ching
Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds
Plato, anything he wrote
Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

This is taken from suggestions made by RPGPundit in his recent blog post "Screw 'Appendix N'!" (I stole my title from him.)

Well screw that. (As the Pundit might say. The 'screw' thing is of course taken from the Pundit. But no, I won't lower myself even further by repeating his use of the 'p' word.)

Whoa! Before this gets too heated, let's step back a bit. Am I suggesting that all of the above works are not worth reading (in some sense of the phrase)? No. Am I suggesting that, all things being equal, they're not all on average more worth reading than, say, a random selection from the shelves of Barnes & Noble? No (though, since they're on average longer, and life is finite, all things may not be equal).

I am suggesting that putting them on a pedestal and implying that all (without exception) are just so much better for you to ingest than any of the books on that other Appendix, is just so much bilge.

According to the Pundit, the works on Appendix N are only 1% better than the most hack-like romance novels or TV show tie-ins. Hemingway is 99% better. Hemingway? Seriously? That's bilge.

We all know what other books are on Appendix C. We read (or at least we were assigned) many of them in high-school and college. The list features mostly dead white males, of course. But recently more and more dead white females and dead 'people of color' have been appended to it. A few of them may not even be dead, but if not, they're probably pretty elderly and aren't writing anything, or at least not writing anything worthwhile anymore. Occasionally they make speeches at book festivals.

Who created the list? No one in particular or exclusively. But many participated. That hippy high-school teacher with the 'Speak Truth to Power' stickers on his office door, and who thinks Bush and Cheney stole the 2000 election helped to perpetuate the list, though he added Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker to it. So did the grey-haired college professor with the pipe, the one that none of his colleagues speak to because he didn't think Bush and Cheney stole the 2000 election, though he threw in a few more Romans and Greeks to it. Mortimer Adler, one of the greatest intellectual hacks of the 20th century, also stands accused. So does William Bennett. Alexander Macris, whose 'Ted-Talk' the Pundit cites approvingly, is also part of the problem.

Ted-Talks are the Star Trek novels of the half-educated.

So why am I against Appendix C? Well, to be frank, many of these works (to again, speak like the Pundit) sort of suck. Gibbon's opus is a misleading and often inaccurate anti-Christian screed. Nietzsche was insane. Virtually all of his 'arguments' are either tautological and thus trivial, obviously invalid, or feature conclusions (deduced from false premises) that are morally repellent. Plato is the most overrated philosopher in history (which obviously says a lot). John Stuart Mill isn't on the above list, but he's on the larger list. Don't even get me started with him.

But don't you need to know who these people are and what their arguments are (such as they are) in order to get along at certain types of cocktail parties? Well, yes. Or at least, yes, if you're not good-looking or charming enough to succeed without answering Great Books trivia questions. But I didn't know we were talking about cocktail parties.

Look, the above are just my opinions. I completely and utterly concede that. But that's precisely the point. Don't blindly take my word for any of it. But by the same token, don't take anyone else's word that all of these books are a hundred times better for you than reading another Conan novel. They might be. But then again, they might not.

By all means, read. Read a lot. Read outside of your ideological boundaries and preconceptions. No one I know treats Appendix N as gospel (despite the claims of the Pundit). But many many people (including the Pundit?) treat Appendix C as gospel. That's silly. Don't be silly.

Think for yourself.


  1. I tried reading Hemingway once (The Old Man and the Sea) after hearing how great he was, and about his lack of appreciation for the beautiful semicolon. Didn't care for his sentences. Faulkner's another "classic" author I couldn't get into

    Some of these authors are better in a different format. There are plenty of philosophers, for instance, who are great to read about, but not to actually read, and this is coming from someone who loves philosophy!

    I should probably add that I've had similar issues with Appendix N (which I really need to read more of). Lovecraft, for instance, felt like wading through molasses

  2. I've read the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and it is a great novel - both in terms of the classics and in terms of gaming. And I don't think people should begin creating their own lists and tables until they have at least looked at Rabelais. Just flip through it. I mean really, "Gargantua and Pantagruel" went places Howard never even dreamed of going..

  3. Give me Shakespeare and the I Ching and I think I could survive being stranded in a tropical island. Okay, and a shovel.

  4. A classic: a book that everyone wants to have read, but no-one wants to read. - Mark Twain

  5. Yeah. To riff off of Twain, one could say that Appendix C contains two sorts of books--bad books that many people have read because other people said they were supposed to read them, and good books that many people haven't read because other people said they were supposed to read them.

  6. Even though I loved RotTK, I would not have been able to follow it at all if I weren't able to visualize all of the hundreds of characters as their ridiculous video game counterparts.

  7. Zarathustra is actually prime gaming material:

    Its an excellent "mysterious message" generator.

    Its an excellent "babblings of the alien wizard" generator.

    Its an excellent "chantings of the rat god cult" generator.