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February 7, 2014

WOLFSIE: Hiding on the shelf

My wife and I were staring at our bookcase the other day. We used to refer to it as an entertain-ment center, but the cassette player broke, so now we’re just calling it like it is. The shelves needed a little rearranging, so I suggested that we bring up a few knickknacks from the basement and get rid of that old set of World Book Encyclopedias. “Why do we need it?” I asked Mary Ellen. “We have our smartphones, a Kindle and a computer.” That’s what I said, but the truth is those books hold some great memories and we still occasionally go to them for quick info, as long as we’re researching something that happened before 1989.

In my fourth-grade classroom I saw my first shelf full of those magical books. I was so intrigued with the idea that all this information could be packed into one place that I snuck the “A” book home to read over the weekend.

That Friday night I read the first entry, and to this day I know a lot more about aardvarks than is really necessary, like that the scientific name for the group that animal comes from is Tubulidentata. I skipped right to the last entry because I always like to know how books end. I learned about ancient Aztec ruins. This has remained a problem for the past 50 years because at cocktail parties when the conversation turns to aardvarks or the Aztecs, I confuse Tubulidentata with the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. How embarrassing is that?

The last volume in the set is the Research and Study Guide. Let’s say you need information on Thomas Jefferson. The guide says you’ll find his listing in Volume J. This is beneficial for anyone who would have started to search by first name. The World Book puts the number of the volume on the book’s spine, so C is also labeled with a 3 —a help when shelving the books if you don’t know the alphabet but can count. Good spellers bought the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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