I was rummaging around in my parents attic recently wondering how we were going to get rid of all this shit when the time comes to get rid of all this shit but that’s a subject for another post. Looking over the seemingly thousands of boxes they have stashed neatly to the side I noticed one marked “World Books”. I knew instantly the treasures contained within this cardboard square.
For those of you over the age of 40 The World Book was our internet, our window to the world. At the time, it seemed every conceivable topic was covered in those massive volumes, A-Z. And then each year we got a new book, basically the previous year in review, covering any new discoveries or matters that had taken place during that time.
Now if your family owned a complete set of Encyclopedias there were a couple of givens, 1; an Encyclopedia salesman knocked on your door and 2; you had a very sturdy bookcase somewhere in your home. Once these remarkable books graced our threshold the most often spoken words by my parents became “Go look it up”. It seemed that every answer, to every question was contained somewhere in the glossy pages of these books with the added benefit of color pictures and transparencies (remember the Human Body Transparent Anatomical Illustration).
As an eight year old I traveled all over the world through these pages. I learned about presidents, wars, countries, people, plants, rocks, bugs and boobs all within the safe confines of our living room. The adventures were endless. The knowledge earthshaking and the thirst it created for more unchallenged even to this day. Over the course of the next ten years these book provided me and my siblings with the expertise to write papers, build science projects, explore and escape. The choices were simple and the information concise. Now we google a topic and are bombarded with selections. Verifying what is true and real has become more of a challenge than wading through the volumes of data. In my time if you footnoted The World Book Encyclopedia on a paper the teacher didn’t give it a second glance, it’s the World Book it has to be true.
One day, many years ago, my wife and I attended a yard sale (either I was in trouble over something or she caught me at a weak moment I can’t remember). An incomplete set of World Books were being sold for $10.00. As I opened volume A and felt the pages, the colors, the text and even the smell took me back in time. I asked my wife if I could buy them for our children and she said no, we didn’t have the space and the kids wouldn’t use them over the internet. Although deep down I knew she made good points I wondered if she was right. With my DNA coursing through their veins wouldn’t they have had the same imagination and thirst for knowledge the eight year old me had when The World Book Encyclopedia expanded my view and my understanding of the world? Probably not.