So did you hear the news? After 244 years of taking up entire bookcase shelves, Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer make print editions. It caused me, who long since moved into the digital book world, a moment to pause and reflect. I might not have noticed except for the fact that I started reading with real life paper and leather and glue books. I actually resisted the move from paper to plastic solely because I thought I could never get past the physical act of turning a page, breaking a spine, and dog earring a page. I especially loved breaking the spine.
I borrowed a book from my brother Lance once and as he handed it to me, he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to break the spine. I think it was a sci-fi/fantasy but I can’t be sure now. To this day, I don’t know how he could have read this 1,500 page novel without cracking that spine right off the bat. I did get to the end of the borrowed book without doing damage but I was practically twitching with the need to just have at it, especially when I was in the middle and would have to contort around the binding to read the words that fell into the center. This ended up being the first and last book I ever borrowed from him. I bet if I asked him today if I could borrow his Nook, he’d tell me I’m not allowed to leave fingerprints on the screen.
I was the proud owner of my own set of encyclopedias, although not Britannica. My Mom-Mom sold World Book Encyclopedias so I had the complete set along with the Childcraft editions which showed the 7 wonders of the world and had a recipe for modeling clay. I would spend hours thinking of random things to look up. I looked up Jesus Christ after bible class one day and was a little disappointed in the dry factual description of someone we had been singing praises to all day. I looked up Satan and that description was a little more lively and included a few crazy flame covered images. Almost everything I’d look up would be followed with the statement “See also . . . . ” and I always did as instructed and would go see also. If I got sent to my room for being naughty, I’d pout on my bed, then eventually make my way to the floor in front of my bookcase. Any thought that popped into my head would promptly get looked up. I still am an avid looker upper but these days, I’m on a digital gadget going “Oh! Let me Google that.” or “What does Wikipedia say?”
Right up there with the tactile sensation of an actual book and looking things up was the feel of a typewriter. Our family owned a manual typewriter and I played on it all the time. I hadn’t learned the proper position for my fingers then so I’d poke and smack away. Sometimes, I’d try to see how many paddles I could get to stick up by pressing as many keys as possible. Any of our generation or older get what I’m talking about. The younger folks will just have to see if there’s a video on Youtube. Eventually, I learned proper fingering techniques in my typing class (which, again for you young ones, is the predecessor to keyboarding class). We learned on IBM Selectrics and about 10 years ago I was in one of the museums at the Smithsonian and saw one proudly on display – ouch. My typing instructor’s name was Mr. Duda. I buckled under my own mischievous pressure and walked into class singing “camptown races 5 miles long – Duda, Duda”. I got detention. I wasn’t the first though.
So here I sit, typing away on my laptop, my entire library of books on the smartphone at my side wondering what we’ll fill up that empty bookshelf with now that we’re in the digital age. What will we balance on our heads to learn proper posture? A Kindle? Where can we get a makeshift booster seat for the table? An external drive? I was in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and I ran across the complete works of Shakespeare in this beautifully bound leather book. The edges of the pages were gilded in gold and a royal blue ribbon bookmark was sewn into the spine. I bought it just for the shear beauty of it. If the electric goes out, or the internet goes down, or the laptop battery drains, I have at least one book on the shelf that I can go to – mind you, I can only look up Shakespeare. I’m going to hold off getting a manual typewriter though. My mad rambles will just have to be saved in my head until the lights come back on.
So with a mixed bag of emotions, I bid adieu to the print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I wonder how many editions are sitting on shelves across the world? Guess I’ll have to Google that, right after I sneak over to Lance’s house and break all his spines.