Thursday, October 12, 2006

The World Book Encyclopedia

For a literate and literary person, The World Book Encyclopedia has many connotations, many associations, memories, meanings. As a kid, I found solace in reading, first the kid classics, then the works with themes of adolescent malaise, then—by way of secret searching in the parents’ bookshelves—the books with the “adult” content. I made my way to the set of encyclopedias we had, The Compton Encyclopedia, and later, through the other research books, including The World Book Encyclopedia, when I had exhausted the fiction and poetry at home and at the town library. My brother, in another respect, read only one book…or set of books. He read the encyclopedias. He would settle into Dad’s easy chair, the foot rest out and therefore the chair reclined, and he would start with A and page one and read until he had finished the volume. The next week he would go on to the next volume. My brother didn’t talk. I mean this in the literal sense: he was silent with words, save the occasional grunt (my mother called it) when someone greeted him or spoke what he probably considered unnecessary words at him. My brother was a genius. He went on to college in Alaska, then to Military Intelligence, and, I imagine, to reading the rest of the encyclopedias in print at that time—The World Book Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica, The Columbia Encyclopedia. I recall that at about the same time he was self-sequestered to read encyclopedias, I was fantasizing about writing and the kinds of writing I would do when I grew up. One of my biggest visions included writing encyclopedia entries. I forgot about this niche writing until after years of college and teaching at a college, I broke away to write for a living. In my research and search for how-to-be-a freelancer and for writing gigs, I came across a call for writers to submit to a literary encyclopedia. Remembering my earliest of callings I bid/applied, then forgetting, went on to write web content…until I got an email from the editor of the 47-year-old publishing house, offering me select opportunities to write book review, then literary surveys for a online academic/literary/library database. It has become one of the best jobs on the planet, if you ask me. Brother works as an MIS, now, so I imagine he has moved to reading The World Book Encyclopedia and others online. He still doesn’t “talk”, emailing me once every few years, letting me know he loves me and is thinking of his big sister. But, I accept this distancing, understanding whether reading The World Book Encyclopedia (the number one best-selling encyclopedia) or writing entries for another comprehensive source, we are busy, necessarily solitary people. Thank God for the Internet.