Thursday, March 22, 2012

Everything From A to Z

My grandparents kept their set on the bookshelf, immediately to the left when you came into the family room. They took up the entire first shelf, the only shelf I could reach above the built in cabinets. Their long sofa stretched out just inside the door, with a tall floor lamp at the end, near the magazine rack. The end of that sofa was my favorite corner in the entire house, the place where I curled up on rainy days and worked my way through the encyclopedias.

My favorite volume was D as that was where I found both "dogs" and "dolls". Working, sport, terrier, I memorized them all, and found, at a very early age, that the hounds were a great looking group of dogs. Toy dogs scared me a bit but the Old English Sheepdogs were my very favorite, although I remember feeling a bit guilty when our lovable mutt Truffles would crawl up and spy on me while I read.
Last summer I found, at my favorite used book sale, an entire set of encyclopedias, very similar to the set at my grandparent's house. The entire box, every 1962 volume from A to Z, was on sale for $14.00. My arms were already full with biographies, travel essays and political histories; I lingered and with a soft nudge from my husband, moved on. His argument, we don't need any more books, we certainly don't need outdated books published in 1962, and our children are going to find information on the computer. But they are not going to have the opportunity to open a book and discover so many things they had no idea they were looking to find.

This summer one of the teachers at school found a full set of encyclopedias in her classroom, something a parent had donated several years ago, which she no longer needed. She offered them to me, knowing that I have difficulty ever turning down a book. I stashed them in the back of the library closet at school and have spent the past few months taking them home, one book at a time, so as not to alert Jack to our newest acquisition.

It's true, I can find almost anything I need on my computer. I have access to an enormous amount of information on just about any topic I can imagine. In minutes I can find the most abundant variety of flora found in the Pennsylvania region of the Appalachian Trail, the name of the running mate of Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 presidential election, and the Cub with the highest batting average in the 1925 baseball season. But those are facts I might go in search of, although I'm not exactly sure why, not things I would likely stumble upon while trolling around the Internet.

However, if I had some free time and found myself in a very comfortable chair with a stretch of books in front of me, with all the information available in 1962 from A to Z, the possibilities are, somewhat, endless. As they will be for my children, once I smuggle in the entire set of outdated encyclopedias. Mary and Kate have no idea what category of dog a Papillon is
but they will soon have the chance, once volume D finds its way home.

In early March Encyclopedia Britannica announced it would no longer publish its printed editions, instead focusing on its online version. I wept just a smidge.


lifeinredshoes said...

My grandparents also had an old set, and like you, I loved to look through them. When grandma passed away last year I was just sure that I would be able to claim them, after all, who wants something so antiquated?
It was not to be, another grandchild had already taken them home. I hope they have as good a memories as we do :)
And I love your header!
Nice to meet you.

Suz said...

you are a treasure of a mom
to be aware of the pleasure of discovering things in such a volume of books....just page turning...

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

I remember my grandparents' set of encyclopedias very well. And what was the only thing I asked for for Christmas when I was 7 or 8? My own set. :)

When my dad sold the house I grew up in, about 10 years ago, I donated them. I couldn't justify moving them...along with everything else...but reading your nostalgic take makes me second-guess my decision a little bit. Good stuff. :)


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