Friday, March 16, 2012

Lisa Dale: Saying So Long To An Old Friend

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with Vic standing there so tall and built, she’d never felt more librarian-y in her life—as sexy as a set of recently outdated encyclopedias.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,

Lisa Dale


Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Lisa. No doubt about it: the announcement that the Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish in print means the end of an era.

Ironically, the dissemination of knowledge that the EB pioneered eventually gave rise to the technology that would make that long shelf of bulky volumes obsolete. To those of us like you and me who love paper books, yet appreciate the convenience of information at the press of a few keys, this event is a bittersweet milestone.

But hey, 244 years is a pretty good run! In the words of Dr. Seuss: "Don't be sad because it ended. Be glad because it happened."

Good luck with "A Promise of Safekeeping"!

Michelle Bledsoe said...

Lisa, I feel like we are losing a legend so to speak. I mean I never bought a set for my daughter because honestly they were out of my price range. Still the memories of going to the library to use the encyclopedias to look up information for school work just brings a smile to my face. I can understand why they quit printing but it's very sad. I can only hope that the printed book will never become a memory.

Chrisbails said...

Congrats on the new release. Love this cover, the book looks great and adding to my must buy list.

Michele L. said...

My parents had a complete set of encyclopedias. I loved looking at all the pictures and reading all the odd things we have in the world. They were really outdated but still fun to look at! Yes, I am one of those that goes on the internet to look something up. The internet is a wealth of knowledge! Somethings I take with a grain of salt, such as medical breakthroughs, because my doctor told me not to believe everything you read. Some of it, is not wise to do. So there are pros and cons to everything you read on the internet.

I will miss the good ole encyclopedia! Your book sure sounds like a fantastic story! Will have to put this on my To-Buy list!

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marybelle said...

We have quite a collection of dictionaries. Mostly from the children's school years. I love them all & still refer to them. There will always be a place for them on the book shelf.

Pat Cochran said...

Not sure if they will be missed that much
since the information they provide can be
obtained elsewhere. It seems there are lots
of items from the "olden days" that are

Pat Cochran