Research Books, Encyclopedias And Living A Thousand Lives


It has been said that readers live a thousand lives before they die, while non-readers live only one. George RR Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books, has been credited with this very poignant quote. When one is immersed in a book, one gets to see life through the eyes of the protagonist. Good fiction has the power to whisk the reader to far-off lands. Reading is a peaceful, enjoyable experience for many folks. I’m one of them.

World Book Encyclopedia is designed to cover major areas of knowledge uniformly and was a fixture in many households before the advent of the Internet.
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

As a child, I always had my nose in books. My library at home was not vast, so my parents often took me to Levittown Public Library to take out books that appealed to me. In my younger years, Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar the Elephant took me on grand adventures. The cursive writing that lit up the pages especially appealed to my artistic side. As I grew older, I found myself drawn to the Little House series. I found a spot in our upstairs den and curled up, eager to find out Laura Ingalls’ next great escapade. However, fictional stories were not the only books that held my rapt attention. A thin set of books, cataloged alphabetically, sat atop Dad’s handmade bookshelf in the hallway. My favorite books were a set of Golden Books Encyclopedias, which Mom had received in weekly installments from my grandmother, who purchased them at Bohack each week with her groceries.

As I pored over the books, I learned that Iowa and Illinois produced the most corn in the United States. Each state boasted tiny symbols across their vastness, which stood for coal, manganese, cotton, oil and other natural resources. Those books became my go-to for knowledge, and I often found myself hoping to memorize each book’s contents. I longed to become a human encyclopedia.

Dad also had a few Time-Life books, which were only about the size of a postcard. One of them, entitled, The Sun was my very favorite. I took that book everywhere, and found myself on my belly in the backyard, soaking up the sun in both the sky and the book. I learned about “the midnight sun” in the Arctic and swore it would be on my “bucket list” of places to visit one day. For Christmas that same year that Dad brought home those books, I received a large coffee table book, entitled Astronomy. Those vivid photographs of outer space, complete with the Horsehead Nebula and “black stars”, soon replaced all others as my very favorite book to read.

When I was a freshman in college, I realized that the Golden Book Encyclopedias would no longer fit the bill for adequate research. I learned about the Encyclopedia Brittanica and World Book Encyclopedia, with volumes so heavy that I feared lifting more than two at once. Information within the pages of these famous encyclopedias was extensive, which meant that it would be a bit more difficult to summarize without reading every single word. During one such research paper, my husband found me at a small library desk, fast asleep on the enormous book.

Time and technology have marched on, which means that for many, encyclopedias have fallen out of use. It is much easier to look for information on one’s computer or cell phone, rather than to drag out a hernia-inducing volume from a local library. However, I’m still pretty old-school where it applies to research. I enjoy the dusty fragrance of books from the library, and nothing makes me happier than a trip to the bookstore for that “new book smell”. I own a Kindle, but I only have a few books on it. I would much rather have the experience of feeling the pages between my fingers and smelling the faint aroma of print on paper. That, my friends, is Heaven on Earth to me.

I may not be looking for the corn icon on the state of Iowa any longer, but I still enjoy a good research book from time to time. My husband and I recently cleared out some old books from our basement and found a pile of research books about weather patterns, birds of the Northeast, types of trees and a Peterson’s Wildflower Guide. I told him that I value research and knowledge, and if he wanted to keep his collection of Prince Albert Cans in the garage, he had best keep his mitts off my books. He backed away with a grin. I picked up that old Astronomy book and leafed through the pages. While I will never visit the Rings of Saturn, it is nice to be able to think about it. Truly, as I read, I live a thousand lives. And before I close my eyes for the final time, I will live a thousand more.

Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.

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