Twelve shades of random

“What did you do before the Internet?” impishly asked SGS the other day as I yet again indulged my annoying need to research some so, so important fact (the etymology of frazzle, perhaps, or maybe the inventor of the ball pit) in the middle of a conversation. Well, it can’t beat the egalitarian spirit, convenience, and speed of the Internet, but my parents’ set of Collier’s Encyclopedias (and, later, the much more intimidating Encyclopedia Britannica) provided one geeky boy with more than enough information to hatch an idea or two.

Digging around Google Images, I found a picture of a copy that looks as well loved as mine:

Those bands of red and gold against the cheap black binding still send a Pavlovian impulse to my brain . . . Those black and white line drawings, that characterless font, the sprawling, derivative articles (“Motion Pictures,” “Hypnosis,” “Amphibians”), the washed-out prose, the suggestions for further reading: *sigh*

Ol’ HVM captures the spirit of the game:

The most exciting days often began with the search for a definition of a new word. One little word, which the ordinary reader is content to pass over unperturbed, may prove . . . to be a veritable gold mine. From the dictionary I usually went to the encyclopedia, not just one encyclopedia but several; from the encyclopedia to all manner of reference books; from reference books to handbooks, and thence to a nine-day debauch. A debauch of digging and ferreting, digging and ferreting. (Plexus 63)

The Internet still satisfies the thirst, but for pure tactile, olfactory pleasure, for sheer gratuitous facts, for pointless pseudo-intellectual debauchery, nothing can top a romp through that cracked, musty Collier’s—or maybe I’m just old.

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~ by Moldorf on February 25, 2010.

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