In my current work in progress, my heroine is a somewhat insecure librarian. And when she’s around the hot Brazilian guy who keeps showing up to get her recommendations on kid’s books, she describes herself like this:
In the library break room, with Vic standing there so tall and built, she’d never felt more librarian-y in her life—as sexy as a set of recently outdated encyclopedias.
In my head, I was imagining the stinky, dusty Encyclopedia Britannica volumes (and they were voluminous volumes) that my parents had squirreled away in the basement thinking “they would be worth something someday.”
That my heroine would compare herself to a bunch of cumbersome, dusty books (in which the information isn’t really updated anymore) seemed perfectly fitting.
But because of a big change in the world this past week, the description became even more pertinent. If you didn’t already hear: Encyclopedia Britannica has quit printing books. They’re officially going online only.
I don’t know about you, but this news made my heart skip.
The EB has been continuously in print since 1768. To put that into perspective, in 1768 Sam Adams was drafting a letter to protest taxation without representation. Boston residents had started refusing to give quarter to British soldiers, who were there to keep the peace.
In 1768, your best bet for mid-week floor cleaning might have been to spread wet tea leaves then sweep them up (I prefer my Shark). To kill bed bugs, you would have doused the whole bedroom in toxic lime powder (today, exterminators freeze the little buggers). A letter to your cousin a few states of might have taken weeks to arrive (and now, email is instant).
So, the EB has been around since the dawn of time. Practically. That it is no longer going to be appearing in print has done a number of my heartstrings. Not because I ever fell in love with a set of encyclopedias, but because of what it means.In my latest release, A Promise of Safekeeping, the hero (Will) is an antiques dealer and picker. He has a deep reverence for things that are old, dusty, a little broken down. I could see him having two reactions to the news from EB: 1) That’s really sad, 2) Hooray that the price of the printed editions will go up.
My heroine of that book, Lauren, wouldn’t blink to wave the EBs good-bye. She despises clutter and things that don’t have immediate practical function. She and Will are a very good match for each other, though they don’t initially think so (especially since Lauren had put Will’s best friend wrongly in prison).
Years ago, my husband (then a new boyfriend) bought me a gorgeous, compact Oxford English Dictionary. This thing is as thick as the cornerstone of a cathedral, and not less heavy. I wanted it because it had seemed fundamentally necessary at the time. And it was, for a while there. And still is when something I’m working on needs a formal citation.
But these days, when I need to look up a word, or a word’s history, for casual use, I turn to the Web. My Nook will even look up the word for me, and notate it. My OED is being used to press flowers from my wedding bouquet…and honestly that’s as much action as it’s seen in a while.
So what do you think? Good riddance to those bulky, dust-collecting encyclopedias?
Or did you, too, feel a weird little pang to hear they are going away?
Wishing you every good thing,