Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New World of Magic

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New World of Magic

Article excerpt

One of my daughters received a loooong awaited iPhone for Christmas. That was around 10 Christmas morning. Before Christmas dinner, I confiscated both her and her older sister's iPhones for a few hours to ensure some family connection time. Still, just before I went to bed Christmas night, I received an email from my cellphone provider that half of her data plan allotment for the month had been used. Half!

Her sense of awe and wonder at her gift was a little like it was ... magic. It's a source of information, connection and wonder. And you know what? It is all those things. So this is no diatribe against kids and smartphones. It is about encyclopedias.

Follow me here. Printed, bound, old-fashioned encyclopedias. Earlier this year, Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years it would no longer print its volumes, sales of which had dwindled for years. Its focus continues to be online, of course. Also this year, my siblings and I moved my dad out of his condominium and into a terrific elder-care facility and what was one of the treasures from his home that found its place in mine? A beautiful, 21-volume set of the World Book Encyclopedia, this one from 1989. World Book is still publishing its printed version, probably for nostalgia more than anything else.

I was thrilled to get it, not just because my mother sold World Book encyclopedias during the 1980s when the printed versions were going strong even though a new set was many hundreds of dollars. I was thrilled because of what that set of books meant to us as kids. The bound books we grew up with from the 1960s were white and green, and I don't remember when we got that set -- it was likely for Christmas -- but I do know how we revered it. It was a source of information, connection and wonder. Those glossy pages with their gilt edging and their unique smell were filled with ... magic.

As a kid I would spend hours poring over the knowledge they contained. I especially liked looking at the pictures of the pyramids and the ancient world, but I also remember being fascinated by everything from Helen Keller to minerals. …

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