Encyclopedia Irrelevantia

31 Jul

There’s no doubt about it: the internet has killed the encyclopedia.

That’s a pretty sad story. Remember when you really really wanted your own set of encyclopedias? I used to think only rich people had them, because they seemed so expensive (were they expensive? I have no idea what they actually cost).*

Which isn’t to say that we never had our own. We first flirted with serialised learning with Messrs Funk & Wagnall, when the books were being sold at a heavily discounted price from Coles in the late ’80s. You could collect the whole set if you went back every week, but we stopped after one. I believe it covered the first part of the letter A (so my sister and I were good for projects on Aborigines, but Ants were out of bounds).

Later, Mum and Dad invested in our education, and we became the owners of an entire World Book set. School projects had never been so exciting! Until the thrill wore off after about a month.

Now, in every Rotary book sale and select secondhand bookstores, you’ll find rows and rows of outdated Britannicas, World Books and Funk & Wagnalls taking up space. I can’t imagine people buying them anymore**… they’re just gilt-edged headstones of a time before google.


*So I just looked it up and it seems a new World Book set costs $2,255. But if you’re not choosy about how current the information is, you can always check out eBay (full sets from 99c!).

**Apart from people who can do this, of course.


5 Responses to “Encyclopedia Irrelevantia”

  1. Whingingpommymummy July 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    My primary school in the UK had a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica and we were taught very early on to treat those tomes with great care. The pages were tissue thin, illustrations were scratchy b&w sketches but the content never ceased to entrall me and spark wonder. It instilled such respect for them that even today,
    30odd years later, I harbour an ambition to have a full set of my own (as well as the space to store them)

  2. gretalackey August 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    I have a children’s set and a medical set of Encycopaedia from the 80s.
    Obviously both are grossly out of date and are taking up much valuable space in my already cramped basement (however I can’t quite bring myself to throw them out – too many of my childhood notions came from these books).
    Perhaps I should look in to this ‘incredible book carving’??

    • M.J. Hearle August 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

      ‘gilt-edged headstones of a time before google’ – what a beautiful description. I was lucky enough to have encyclopedias growing up but I wasn’t allowed to use them after I cut up a few pages for a school report on Edgar Allan Poe.

      • literatechicken August 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

        Oh my god, I can’t believe you cut them up! That would be punishable by death in many countries, young man…

    • literatechicken August 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

      Greta, I’ve daydreamed about learning how to do that book carving – something tells me I would just end up with a shredded set of books and the absolute certainty that I should never touch a book with a razor again 🙂

      I know what you mean about not being able to throw them out though. But hey, they’ll be great for your kids to look through one day!

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