Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Encyclopedias, Playboy Magazine and the Throne of Knowledge...

I knew it was coming. I'd actually already wondered about the industry...were they adapting? How could they compete, make do...what would happen??

I can almost hear the silence of the dormant printing presses.

I am referring to the recent news that Encyclopedia Britannica has stopped publication of their encyclopedia after 244 years and will now be available only in an online format.

I have no idea what has become of the other encyclopedia companies. Britannica is the most well known and I am too stricken with google-ennui to delve into this topic, assuming that if they threw in the towel, their lesser competitors probably preceded them.

Not as bad as we
once imagined.
I am always saddened by yet another manifestation of a world that, in my arrogant overbearing pompous  humble opinion, is already way too web-dependent.

While I may have felt slightly less unhappy when it recently occurred to me that horny teenage boys everywhere no longer need to steal Dad's old issues of Playboy, hiding them between their mattresses and box springs, I did note that change with some degree of nostalgia. Such scenes, after all, are popular fodder for coming-of age stories in nearly every generation...but it will stop with this one.

Replacing them will be images of little boys googling hardcore, unstoppable, streaming, screaming porn...a whole lot worse, I fear, than the air-brushed boobies and tushies of Playboy.

Sorry, Mr. Giraffe,
"G" stood for something
else that day.
Speaking of porn and encyclopedias, I remember a boy in junior high bringing in a single volume -- containing the letter "G" -- of his encyclopedia from home. He'd folded back the page with "gynecology" on it and I remember delighted dirty laughter emanating from the center of a small group of budding schoolyard degenerates. How innocent they seem today in a world of sexting, soft-porn on primetime TV, and easily accessed everything on the internet.

Despite the convenience of all the new electronic reading devices, it's simply not the same as reading a volume of an encyclopedia. Will the online version of Britannica allow you to start at one topic yet enjoy the serendipity of stumbling upon interesting subjects you didn't even realize you were interested as you go along?
Getting an early

While you certainly can bring your IPad, Kindle or Nook into the bathroom with you, you're not going to leave it there -- on the top of the toilet tank -- until your next visit like both Seth and I did as kids. Him on a toilet in Chicago and me, on my own "throne of knowledge" in Brooklyn.

He and I, unbeknownst to the other at the time, were "bathroom encyclopediacs." We read an entry based on the time needed to complete our "task" and, as a bonus, made serious inroads into the wide wealth of available information.

Seth had the fancy, coveted World Book while I, underprivileged urban waif that I was, slowly collected the low-brow but knowledge-packed Columbia Encyclopedia.
Thank you, Waldbaums.

As I've reverse-bragged about before, money was tight for us so we were thrilled when Waldbaum's Supermarket ran a promo that allowed shoppers to purchase individual volumes if they spent a certain weekly amount at the store. You had to produce receipts, fork over $1.49 (the actual amount) and a new book was yours.

Easy! We were huge eaters and soon, my set was complete.

I used it from late elementary school through college in the google-free, wikipedia-less, read-on-the-stoop, disco-soaked world I inhabited.

I bet that Encyclopedia Britannica's recent announcement will cause a small wave of nostalgic searches and purchases from Ebay and Goodwill. I know Tom has already expressed an interest in the joy of just holding a volume in his hands and letting it have its way with him.

Seth and I both gave our sets away many years ago. They were seriously outdated but I wish I'd held onto a volume or two. So, farewell, encyclopedias with your metallic-edged pages, stiff binding, engraved titles and smooth pages. You will be missed....by some of us, anyway.


  1. I remember having the "World Book" Encyclopedias at my house. I think they kept sending the yearly update long after I was out of the house.

    It's a brave new world. Especially considering that all the apps out there are now trying to make the online versions look more like paper... lol


  2. I will miss the encyclopedias. There is something about sitting in a library with a dusty encyclopedia that google cannot compete with.

  3. It was a dictionary in the loo for me... but I agree - a book is so far ahead of google et al that I feel sad for future generations, who will not know the thrill that we experienced XO

  4. Not so sure I appreciate this "brave new world," Scott...but I appreciate your stopping by!

  5. I totally agree, Michelle...and I do live Google but a book is a book!

  6. Janet!!!!! I agree--so happy to see you! XO

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