Monday, May 22, 2006

Two by two...
Dead Books Walking

Like some anti-intellectual Noah, I have finally undertaken my dreaded task of taking the Encyclopaedia Britannica to the trash. Two by two.

It just seems wrong. I remember the thrill of finally appropriating our own set - the hallmark of the thinking, caring family. (albeit our set was a library discard that employee Embot was allowed to bring home after the ad offering it for sale for $100 went unanswered.) It has come to my attention that the Britannica has been collecting a lot of dust. To steal an advertising jingle, “It’s a dust magnet.” It just has not been used much of late. The kids know how to use a print encyclopaedia. Most often we choose not too. The dust has accumlated to an anaphylaxis provoking degree. I should wear a mask just to dust the volumes. We need extra book shelving. And we’re out of floor space.

So I decided to move it along. Funny, nobody else wants a fifteen year old Encyclopaedia Britannica either. My husband operates a charitable foundation which provides technology and education hardware to schools and persons in need. I figured he might know of some group who would want it. Nada. Zip. You can’t give ‘em away. Sort of like that line in The Sound of Music where Maria says she tried to donate her clothes to the poor but the poor didn’t want them.

Then I read The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. You know, the book about the guy who reads the whole Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Micropedia, macropedia - the whole enchillada. The Know-It-All is an excellent book. One of the best books I’ve read in ages. But, of course, Mr. Jacobs’ reverence for the print edition of the EB filled me with shame for wanting to dispose of my set. All 36 volumes, give or take.

Well, I’m over it now. I’m getting my housekeeping edge back. And I decided it’s time to dust that shelf and can the EB. I fan through each volume for any personal effects (wouldn’t it be nice to find a $20 bill?) and rip out any color plates of educational value or usable in one of my collages. (Don’t worry Embot - the human body transparencies to which some comedienne attached a photo of your face will be saved for posterity.) But two by two, out they go. That’s about all I can carry downstairs. It is probably kinder to the trash man that way, too. I could use a little more help from the family, but I need to retain some control over which volumes go and when. And Rick doesn’t quite get it yet - he saw me walk out the door on my way to a meeting with my spiritual director and couldn’t comprehend what was on the agenda that required two hefty volumes of the EB. As I dropped them into the garbage, I explained again.

I am ashamed. It just seems wrong. So wrong. Like there should be some sort of respectful decommissioning ceremony. Or something. If I ever meet the august A.J. Jacobs I certainly will not tell him my dirty secret...the fact that we both handled all the volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...he to read each one and me to walk each to the trash.

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