HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We had Delia Ephron earlier this week—and she, of course, wrote the fabulous You’ve Got Mail. But, of course, most days, we don’t have mail. Real mail, that is.
I am still as eager as ever to check the mailbox every day, I really look forward to it with undiminished hope, but there’s never anything there anymore, except ads and junk and phony offers and tabloid looking things I don’t even know what are. And bills, of course. So, real mail is disappearing. Fine. And videotape, too, is on the way out. I’m a TV reporter, and for 30 years have used videotape cassettes. Now—no more .We’re all digital. But that’s fine, digital is good.
Bring in the new, if it’s better, all good.
So why, then, was I so bummed to see the Britannica Encyclopedia is no longer going to publish a print edition? Oh, we loved our Britannica. I read it, cover to cover. World Book, too. It was the arbiter of every discussion—“Go look it up” was a big manta in our house. I was so fascinated that you could find out ANYTHING.
We were fascinated by the color plates, and used to discuss which branch of the service had the coolest uniforms (Coast Guard) and which insects were the creepiest. (Was there something called a stag beetle? I have to go look it up… )
We quizzed each other on the flags of all nations by covering the names with a finger, and ran outside to compare the constellations to the drawings on the shiny pages.
I suppose you can do that on line, too, But it was so—reassuring? To have all those nice volumes lined up on the bookshelf, just ready to tell you anything you wanted to know. Yeah, you can do that on line, too. But it’s not the same.
How do you feel about the end of the print-encyclopedia? (And can you spell it without singing?)
JAN BROGAN: - I was a World Book fan myself, loved to read them on the floor when I was a kid and even bought a used edition from the library sale for my kids that are downstairs in the bookcase. I really should throw them out, I suppose, because I look up everything on line.
And because I look up so much online these days, I can't blame the Britannica people, but because I am prone to post-apocalyptic wondering, I wonder, what happens if the lights really go out? Is all that information we collected gone for good. Do we go back to the Dark Ages? Scary thought.
HALLIE EPHRON: I won't miss the Britannica, but I will miss those fabulous color plates. Precious gems were a favorite. And yes, beetles. We also had the Book of Knowledge series which my mother had loved when she was little but I confess, I never got into it. Which for some reason reminds me of the Book House books -- talk about fabulous plates!
ROSEMARY HARRIS: I know...it was a sad day in the Harris household when we decided to send the EB set to Goodwill. So we changed our minds. It still sits, unused for probably decades, not far from the exercise bicycle (I won't tell you how long that's been unused.)
HANK: Jan, that IS scary. I never thought about it that way...hmmm. Here's my new post-apocalyptic novel. Only the people who keep their paper encyclopedias will be able to know anything. The title? Rule Brittanica! Okay, maybe I'm a little tired.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, I love Rule Britannica! Brilliant! But what a scary thought. Maybe old encyclopedias would be traded like currency...
We had a cheap set when I was growing up--Compton's, maybe? I lusted after Britannica but my parents would never spend the money. Remember how expensive they were? $500 or so doesn't seem like much now when you can buy an iPad with it, but I'm sure to my folks it was a big deal.
So when my daughter started grade school, I bought Britannica. I was so proud, but I'm not sure she ever used them. Then by the time she went off to college DH and I argued over them for years, until I finally gave in and let them go. Sad.
Remember when encyclopedia salesmen went door to door? And vacuum cleaner salesmen? And the Fuller Brush man (although that I barely remember... I think I've just dated myself enough.)
HALLIE: This is bringing back memories. I had a VERY brief career as an encyclopedia salesperson. Went through the training. Then a single night in the field convinced me that I was not cut out to sell a very very expensive thing to people who most certainly could not afford it. Selling a dream, when what they needed was library cards.
RHYS BOWEN: Hallie, that's so funny. I did the same. I aced the training. I was by far the best in the class. Then I went out with a top salesperson and watched her tricking poor people into agreeing to buy something they couldn't afford because the way she put it to them to say no was admitting they didn't care about their kids' future. I quit after one day too. But I always loved my mother's set of Pictorial Knowledge with those plates that open up to reveal layers underneath.
LUCY BURDETTE: Oh my gosh, Hallie, what a story! I bet Rhys would be a whiz at sales in the right circumstance...I don't have a clear memory, but it seems to me we had half a set. Was that possible? That you bought them on an installment plan?
We also had a second set of very old books from which we were allowed to cut the photos in order to illustrate school reports:).
HANK: You could CUT them out? Whoa. Cool parents. And yes, you could buy some version of the encyclopedia at the grocery, right, one a week or a month?
LUCY BURDETTE: Just back to sales for a minute--I was let go from my first sales job after a day and a half. Simply didn't have the extroverted persona they needed to sell souvenirs...such a blow...
HANK: And now look--we're all selling ALL THE TIME! So Reds, what's your encyclopedic past? (And do you all recognize how I chose the title of this blog?) (and one lucky commenter will get an ARC of my new book THE OTHER WOMAN..coming soon!)