Wednesday, March 14, 2012


If you're over the age of maybe 55 or so, that headline might bring a smile to your face.

If you're not, you're probably scratching your head, and rightly so.

For those of you who came in late, back in the 1950s the original "Mickey Mouse Club" would occasionally present a feature what was supposed to educate and entertain us stay-at-home Mouseketeers.

How educational were they? Maybe not very, considering that I can't remember any of the topics.

But what I do remember -- along with a lot of other baby boomers -- is that these segments were narrated by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Cliff Edwards), who opened them with a tune in which he spelled out (or maybe rather sang out) the above letters.

I thought of Jiminy today as I read that the folks behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica (yes, they insist on that extra "a") plan to discontinue their print edition, though the content will continue to be available online.

This saddens me, because although my family never owned a set of the EB, we did have another kind of encyclopedia, which I remember fondly.

It was called the Golden Book Encyclopedia, and you could buy one volume a week at the grocery store where we did our shopping.

It's entirely appropriate that these books were sold at a food store, because I almost literally gobbled up each volume after we got it home.

One thing that appealed to me was the covers. Each was cleverly laid out with objects from that particular volume. The cover of Book 14: Silk to Textiles, for example, featured stamps, a starfish and a photo of a spacecraft nearing what appeared to be the moon. I always looked forward to seeing what the next cover would look like.

I also especially remember the maps of the various countries and states, with their various symbols. As I recall, a tiny picture of a steer's head (I suppose today we'd call it an icon) indicated that they had a lot of cows in Texas. I also think there were one or two pictures of oil wells there, too.

I learned a lot from these books. I probably forgot a lot of it too. Perhaps my mental hard drive erased this information to make room for all the stuff I wound up learning (willingly or not) during the next 50 years.

Perhaps what I liked most about these books is that a new surprise awaited you on every page. ("Oh, I didn't know that part of your ear is made of this stuff called cartilage!")

I suppose you could argue that surfing the Internet provides its share of surprises, too. And it would certainly be hypocritical of me, a blog writer, to disown the Internet.

But I often find that on the Web my attention ricochets from one topic to another, kind of like a mental pinball, and I forget what I was trying to find out in the first place. (Assuming I was trying to find out anything in particular to begin with.)

No, there's still something to be said for leisurely turning the pages of an encyclopedia, or some other reference book, from left to right, never knowing what you might find next, kind of the intellectual equivalent of the Sunday drive. Whereas a "drive" on the Internet can often lead to zigzags and detours that lead to information that can be questionable at best -- kind of like a smart-aleck kid who moves an arrow on a road sign and sends you to Albuquerque when you're trying to get to Poughkeepsie.

Then again, I'm not sure I'd like to re-examine any of the Golden Book Encyclopedia's volumes. Perhaps I'd find that the entries explicitly or implicitly reflected attitudes that we'd shy away from now. Or that some of the entries were just plain dumb. All of which would prove, once again, that the past is often best revisited from a distance -- and without high-powered binoculars.

But whatever its worth as an educational document, I'll always be grateful to the Golden Book Encyclopedia for the thrill it gave me each week -- the thrill of learning something new. A thrill that, over the last 50 years, still hasn't gotten old.

No comments: