The world in World Books

The desire to plunge into a book and read about the world is often kindled as a kid.

One of the most glorious days of my childhood was when I sat on my livingroom floor, tearing the brown paper wrapping from each blue-clad volume of my brand-new set of the World Book Encyclopedia. It was the greatest material gift my parents ever gave me, and it kept on giving in many non-material ways.

The moment I unwrapped the last volume, I carefully arranged them in alphabetical order and began browsing…and browsing…and browsing. The written world in my World Books – aptly named – beckoned to me, and I responded with joy to what I could see and read under every letter of the alphabet.

Through World Books and other volumes such as my Landmark Books for young readers, proudly displayed in the rack that came with my Landmark book club membership, I learned to love learning.

And I loved learning about vast swaths of knowledge, gobs of information on a stunning array of subjects. My World Books opened the lid of a treasure chest that made me feel like a Croesus of thought. The encyclopedia, in a pre-internet era, was the perfect portal for me.

That’s very different from the culture in which kids find themselves today, a culture drowning in cellphones and texting and twittering. Where’s the portal for them? How can you find an entry point into quiet contemplative thought when you send and receive hundreds of text messages a day? When do you find time to discover, say, the feeding habits of flamingos when you’re texting 22 blurts about, say, that asshole in school?

As for me, I’m delighted to have had a texting-free childhood, complete with a portal through which I joyfully passed. For the life of my mind, it was – and is – a world rife with wonder.