I remember sitting in seventh grade looking around the room and finding myself staring at the Encyclopedia Britannica which sat on a shelf next to the cloakroom (coatroom). I think the set was the gift of someone’s grandparents and a big show was made about it but we were not allowed to use the books because I guess it was kind of cheating. As Sister Mary Joseph droned on about decimals and fractions I decided that it would be easier to just read the entire encyclopedia and maybe a dictionary (Merriam-Webster was the only dictionary that Sister recognized) because if it wasn’t covered there it probably didn’t really matter. I could know everything. What was I doing sitting in class listening to Sister who, when I caught a glimpse of her, was now on her way over to crack me on the head with a wooden Westcott ruler (I can remember that the Westcott logo had an arrow through the “W”)?
Wait, I know what you’re thinking—“hey, there are new developments all the time”. Right, and that is exactly why the Encyclopedia Britannica had a yearly update volume. I would have a whole year to acquire that new knowledge. However long it would take me to read the entire set it would certainly be less time than sitting through the balance of seventh grade and the rest of my school career plus there would be no Westcott. Why hadn’t this been thought of before?
I wanted to put my plan into action and see the looks on the faces of my parents, Sister Mary Joseph and Father Ahern (who passed out the report cards and glares) when all of a sudden they realized that they had someone special, a true scholar, in their school. It would be quite a feather in their caps. With the encyclopedia officially off limits I went to the public library and read one or two paragraphs in Britannica about the letter “A” when three of my friends came in and interrupted my plan. That was that.
I don’t know why after all of these years I thought about my encyclopedia plan, maybe I bumped my head and I saw that “W” flash by. I still have lots of really great ideas but this being the first of that long string I always seem to come back to the pure beauty of that simple plan.
Encyclopedia Britannica has now gone digital so the plan is pretty much dead plus in addition to the on-going developments of the past year that would have to be learned we have so much new knowledge, so many new categories. Now, there are categories that nobody dreamed of when I was in seventh grade. In addition to reading about the Magna Carta and snow owls and St. Isaac Jogues (ask your friends who went to Catholic school) and the tributaries of the Mississippi now there are on-line answers to questions about how to:
Find the perfect man’s shirt,
Bake gluten-free cookies,
Tone your thighs at home,
French kiss and
Open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.
There is so much to learn but I think my plan would have put me well on the way. If Thomas Edison had been interrupted while he worked on his light bulb would we still be sitting in the dark? If my friends had not interrupted me would I still be sitting in the dark? Who knows. It’s just funny how things work out.