Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Confessions of an Encyclopedia-Lover

"Looking something up" in an encyclopedia or some other reference volume is considered a legitimate activity.

But no one admits they read them. Certainly not for pleasure.

Except Scott McLemee of Inside Higher Ed.

You can read his confession in the article Information, Please: "I suspect the image of an adult habitually meandering through the pages of an encyclopedia carries a degree of stigma. There is a hint of regression about it — if not all the way back to childhood, at least to preadolescent nerdishness".

This is pure coincidence, but there's a hilarious book I just started reading, The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs.

It is a memoir of Jacobs' project to spend a year reading every volume in the Encyclopedia Britannica to fill in the gaps of his education and become the "smartest person in the world."

Or at least accumulate huge quantities of oddball trivia to insert into conversations. Like who knew Descartes had a thing for cross-eyed women?

Of course, everyone around him starts thinking he's either weird and neurotic, a bore, or losing his mind.

Confession: as a teenager, I was on my high school's scholastic quiz team for a Radio-Canada TV show called "Génies en herbe" (Budding Geniuses), the French equivalent of the famous show Reach for the Top. My team, Collège Notre-Dame, became national champions the year I was a member. How did we prepare? Our coach, the Latin and German teacher, would lock us up every late afternoon in a room in the school library with piles of encyclopedias, in particular the Universalis (the French Encylopedia Britannica), and have us read. And read. And read.

We became very good at the quiz thing. But also very nerdy and neurotic and edgy from cabin fever. We were teenagers and could see our schoolmates through the window playing soccer and dodge ball and chatting with the cute girls from that private school nearby.

But, hey, I still know what year the first workers' credit union was founded in Belgium. And who introduced the potato to Europe. And why French fries are actually from Holland. And lots of other utterly useless trivia.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 12:31 pm


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, that was really well explained and helpful

10:46 pm  

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