Encyclopedia readers unite
April 27, 2006 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Is/was it normal to read Encyclopedia(s) as a child?

Recently, I've come across a couple of references to reading the encyclopedia as a child (our own y6y6y6) "For some reason I can't explain, I also read encyclopedias. By the 7th grade I had read three. " I read a couple, as well, as a kid. I never thought it particularly odd or different. Was it a generational thing (growing up in the '70s/'80s? ) or a just dorky guy thing? The result of door2door salesmen and more disposable income and thus easy or easier access? Are there lots of former Encyclopedia readers out there?
posted by shoepal to Education (97 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, it was normal for me -- I did it all the time. I'd read the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the atlas too.
posted by scody at 4:23 PM on April 27, 2006


Are there lots of former Encyclopedia readers out there?

yes
posted by Substrata at 4:24 PM on April 27, 2006


they were what I normally went to when I'd read all my library books as a kid. just an few articles wherever it opened though--I didn't read them straight through.
posted by carsonb at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2006


Encyclopedias, Almanacs, Atlas' - Loved them all as a kid! So I say normal!
posted by stew560 at 4:28 PM on April 27, 2006


Yes, and sometimes still do, but I too was a dorky kid growing up in the 70s and 80s.
posted by goo at 4:28 PM on April 27, 2006


I suppose the results/answers here will be pretty skewed and not necessarily representative of the average person. Not that that is a bad thing. I suppose I didn't really consider that Mefites would be more likely to have read reference materials as children, but it makes sense.
posted by shoepal at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2006


Yep. I read 'em along with the Guiness Book of World Records. Good times.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2006


You're asking the wrong crowd.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:30 PM on April 27, 2006


Yep. Me too.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:30 PM on April 27, 2006


I did it habitually, so it couldn't possibly be normal in the greater population, as I was a nerd.

But amongst nerds, and so probably amongst MeFites, childhood encyclopedia reading was probably the rule rather than the exception.

If you go to my mom's house you can tell what my favorite volumes were. "F" is particularly worn--it had Fish, Flags, Fashion, France, and First Ladies.
posted by padraigin at 4:31 PM on April 27, 2006


I still do it, except now it's the Wikipedia. I spend more time there than can be explained by any legitimate research needs.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:34 PM on April 27, 2006


I read 'em along with the Guiness Book of World Records.

... and the Book of Lists and the People's Almanac, too.
posted by john m at 4:35 PM on April 27, 2006


Most definitely, but I'm also a huge nerd.

It's either for better or for worse that my 'pediae of choice were World Book 1963 and Britannica 1974, seeing as how I was born in 1982.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:36 PM on April 27, 2006


Well, it was normal for me -- I did it all the time. I'd read the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the atlas too.

Same here. I'd either just pick it up and open to a random page, or I'd be looking up something specific for a specific reason and then see something else that interested me on the same page and get sucked into reading more. Most of the people I know think this is weird (and I think this is how the Average Joe probably feels), but my family was heavily into books and reading was strongly encouraged. We all loved words. I think this is good and not something to be discouraged or something to be embarrassed about (though I'd be disinclined to actively encourage it, like, "Hey, you should read the dictionary sometime." If they discover it on their own, cool).

On the "disposable income" thing, I'll just say that we didn't have much, so our copy of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary we had was highly prized (and well-worn).
posted by Gator at 4:36 PM on April 27, 2006


I loved the World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias.

I was very fond of Fish and Flags in the F volume, too.
posted by lemuria at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2006


You're definitely getting a biased sample here.

Like some others, I never read the encyclopedia straight through, but any time I had any question of any kind, I would head straight to our 1980 World Book, and usually would end up spending at least a couple of hours. By the end I would have completely forgotten what I wanted to know in the first place -- I'd followed up a few leads to understand what I'd originally looked up, but then got distracted by a pretty picture on the facing page, then been reminded of something I'd meant to look up the day before....

The Book of Lists was my favorite for leisure reading.
posted by gleuschk at 4:43 PM on April 27, 2006


Who's Who as well...but that's probably stretching commonality. Even here.
posted by mnology at 4:46 PM on April 27, 2006


Yeah, we had World Book.
posted by geekyguy at 4:52 PM on April 27, 2006


Whoa, crazy, I used to do exactly that. Just sit with an encyclopedia and flip pages til I found something interesting. We didn't have an encyclopedia at home, so I would do it in the library, but I remember learning SO MUCH. I wish I still had that spark in me, but I do find myself reading up on different, "useless" stuff on wikipedia now and then...
posted by jedrek at 4:52 PM on April 27, 2006


Hubby and I both did (and still do). Dictionaries too.
posted by wallaby at 4:58 PM on April 27, 2006


I thought I was the only kid who did this! I'd go to look up something, and I'd wind up reading the entire volume.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:00 PM on April 27, 2006


Well, I can only offer my personal experience as a person who grew up in the sixties and seventies. I loved reading encyclopedias. I don't understand how anyone wouldn't. They are repositories of such a wide wealth of fascinating information.

I also loved reading the dictionary, and I still do. Has to be Chambers, though. That's the true lexophiles lexicon.
posted by Decani at 5:02 PM on April 27, 2006


This is kind of chatfiltery, but I, too, read encyclopedias as a kid. I explained this in an interview once -- my grandparents had a full set from like 1965 or so and I'd spend a week every summer there with nothing to do but read the full set.

It made me interested in college because I always knew the crazy stuff in the encyclopedia that we never heard about in grade school would eventually get covered in college. And when I was done with my BS, I applied for grad school immediately because I didn't feel I knew enough of the stuff covered in the encyclopedia set.

It's also why I love wikipedia and go there once a week to just browse for an hour or two. It reminds me of reading those books at grandma's house, jumping around from article to article.
posted by mathowie at 5:04 PM on April 27, 2006


I personally preferred the atlas over the encyclopedia, but I did have a "youth encyclopedia" that was meant for teenagers which I read as an 8-9 year old. It was divided in chapters, and every chapter had a long feature story and smaller encyclopedia sections to go with it, so it was a pretty good read. (Also, there were a few chapters on sex and dating which were hilarious to 9-year olds.)
posted by easternblot at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2006


Apologies for the chatfilteriness. Wasn't intentional. I was genuinely curious if it was normal/typical behaviour, particularly for those that came of age in the 60s/70s/80s.
posted by shoepal at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2006


Another encyclopedia reader here, primarily in the 80's. No comment on whether it's normal or not, but I'm sure there are quite a few of us.
posted by lekvar at 5:19 PM on April 27, 2006


I remember reading the Charlie Brown Encyclopedia set over and over and over again. They were hardcover-bound yet my brother and I found a way to wear them out.

Picture of books at eBay.
posted by camworld at 5:23 PM on April 27, 2006


I owe a lot to my almost obsessive reading of Arthur Mee's Children Encyclopedia. In India, I'm fairly sure that wasnt normal, I don't know anyone of my age doing that.
posted by dhruva at 6:16 PM on April 27, 2006


Yup. I also read practically every issue of National Geographic too. When I was a kid, I loved books & magazines. When I was about 6 I got ahold of a Playboy once, and my mom said "You probably shouldn't be reading that." I replied with "Don't worry mom, I'm just loking at the pictures."

But I actually tried to read National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Look, Life, Boy's Life (i was in the scouts) and any other periodical that I could get my hands on. The encyclopedia was just one more world of information to dive into.
posted by drstein at 6:19 PM on April 27, 2006


+1 read encyclopedias
+1 dorky kid in the '70s
+1 encyclopedia-selling grandfather
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on April 27, 2006


AskMe IS an encyclopedia.
posted by michaelkuznet at 6:23 PM on April 27, 2006


I did it as well (and Wikipedia these days). It looks like no one's mentioned this book yet: The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. It's the story of a writer who reads the Encyclopedia Britannica all the way through. He talks about trying to do it as a kid and failing, too.
posted by pekala at 6:29 PM on April 27, 2006


Encyclopedia Britannica.

'S' Volume

Sexual Deviancy

Eventually, the volume developed a permanent tendency to open to that article.

I was a messed-up SOB even as a child.
posted by The Confessor at 6:31 PM on April 27, 2006


I read the encyclopedia. And the dictionary. Then one year my parents bought me The Encyclopedia of Dictionaries. Geek Heaven.
posted by jrossi4r at 6:31 PM on April 27, 2006


Yep. Growing up in the early 80's I spent hours at my grandparents' house poring through the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia. Later got hooked on the Books of Lists, the Peoples Almanacs, and the Man Myth and Magic set.

All of this came in very handy when I was a contestant on Jeopardy!; I imagine Jeopardy! contestants would probably be a pretty biased sample for this question as well.
posted by jtron at 6:31 PM on April 27, 2006


It wasn't normal, but I'll cop to it. I didn't exactly read the whole thing, mind you, but I'd read through lots of entries. As I grew older I found it more and more of a cultural curiosity – it was a set of World Books from about 1956.
posted by furiousthought at 6:32 PM on April 27, 2006


Children's Britannica (the red one). Occasional articles in the big Encylopedia Brittanica, but the books were really big and the print really small and the paper really thin. Then again, one of my mom's most cherished gifts from my dad is the Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2 volumes with magnifying glass), so there's a bit of a skew there. (Mom was a librarian before the kids were born, and got a job editing technical texts when we were in college.) I also read National Geographic and the Smithsonian magazine.
posted by jlkr at 6:34 PM on April 27, 2006


I loved reference books of all kinds. I used to smuggle volumes of our classroom encyclopedias back to my desk so that I could read them during class. I'd already read the textbooks, so I wasn't missing anything. My grandmother had (has) a set of encyclopedias (Britannica, I think) from sometime in the 1960s, and those were fun to look at and compare to the more recent volumes I'd read at school.

Other favorites included almanacs, atlases, my dad's huge unabridged dictionary, National Geographic, astronomy books, medical reference dictionaries, and the Time Life/Reader's Digest style science and history compilations we had lying around. Actually, I'd read just about anything. Given my present predilection for spending hours browsing through Wikipedia and playing with Google Earth, I'd say little has changed.
posted by Aster at 6:38 PM on April 27, 2006


We had 3 encyclopedias and I read them all the time as a child (1960s and 1970s). The other thing was the 2 or 3 atlases... One of them I was big. I used to kneel on it and trace the maps onto onion-skin paper, then make my own versions of the maps... Especially loved those historical maps in the World Book Atlas of the Holy Roman Empire and the duchys and baronies and the like which were partly in it and partly not...

Eventually I broke the binding of the atlas by kneeling on it and using it too much, but I kept on tracing.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:39 PM on April 27, 2006


every night before bed.
posted by Cohiba4009 at 6:44 PM on April 27, 2006


I didnt have many books in the house when i was a kid but i had 4 or 5 encyclopedias. They were crappy ones I know I had K-L and a few other letters.

I read them alot.
posted by beccaj at 6:44 PM on April 27, 2006


Me too, in the early 90s. I used to eat supper alone and read the Hebrew version of Britannica at the table. I never read it systematically from cover to cover; I would just pick up a random volume and read (and often re-read) anything that looked interesting, which was almost everything. My brother and my dad used to do it, too. These days I read wikipedia for hours on end.
posted by ori at 6:45 PM on April 27, 2006


Yep. I never read the whole thing straight through, but I'd go all kind of hyper texty and jump around from related things.
I got really into templars/masons/hassan-i-sabbah/jacques de molay and that was even before I'd read Foucalt's Pendulum.
That probably makes me a pretty weird kid, although I don't remember thinking of myself as such.
posted by juv3nal at 6:45 PM on April 27, 2006


It popped up in popular children's literature at the time. I think a lot of kids got the idea from Maniac McGee.

I read them, too. I got through Childcraft, and entire set of World Book and several versions of the letter 'A' of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. I couldn't resist buying one in the supermarket when they were only nine cents. I think a lot of kids read them because they were one of the few non-fiction books in most homes (besides the Time Life Home Repair Manuals).
posted by Alison at 6:50 PM on April 27, 2006


I did. ...but we had no "B" wtf?!
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 7:01 PM on April 27, 2006


I did, and my six year old does too.

He now has a basic grasp of algebra and relativity, rather frighteningly.
posted by unSane at 7:01 PM on April 27, 2006


Yes, I loved to read the encyclopedia too. Of course, this was before computers became common. Encyclopedias have been replaced by the computer.
posted by bim at 7:06 PM on April 27, 2006


I read the encyclopedia, but not straight through. I'd read the dictionary, too.
posted by sugarfish at 7:09 PM on April 27, 2006


Nope, not normal at all. NERRRRDDDD!

/encyclopedia reader (hey, this was pre-intarnets - all I had were BBSs)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 7:13 PM on April 27, 2006


As with camworld, I too read the Charlie Brown's Ecyclopedia as a child.
posted by furtive at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2006


Another encyclopedia / dictionary / reference book reader. My faves were anatomy books with all those cool medical drawings.

I even brought home an almost-full set of encyclopedias I found in an alley, and read every slightly-musty and warped volume.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2006


I spent hours at a time with the (Time-)Life Science Library, a series of encyclopedia-esque publications. The "Man and Space" volume -- by Arthur C. Clarke of all people! -- was a favorite, along with several of the other hard science volumes: Matter, The Cell, Mathematics. I recently bought a complete set (including a few volumes I never had) for my daughter, and I find myself perusing them as often as she does.

Atlases were another favorite, although I've never owned a high quality atlas of any kind.
posted by majick at 7:22 PM on April 27, 2006


Yes. I browsed them, reading small and large bits, like grazing at a buffet. And the big dictionary and the atlas, too.

Except, mum... dad... Why did you only buy A-M? Half my perception has been skewed!

It's also why I love wikipedia and go there once a week to just browse for an hour or two. It reminds me of reading those books at grandma's house, jumping around from article to article.

That's why I like the web.

--signed,
another nerdy kid with 70s-era childhood

posted by Savannah at 7:24 PM on April 27, 2006


It's totally normal if you are a geek. And I am a geek so I read Britannica like crazy.

majick, I also loved those Time-Life Science Library books.
posted by litlnemo at 7:35 PM on April 27, 2006


I'll add to the 50+ responses here: I too read it as a child, as well as the dictionary, thesaurus, and atlas. I did it regularly. Judging by the responses here, I think the answer to your question is: Yes, it seems pretty normal!
posted by jak68 at 7:49 PM on April 27, 2006


wow - I really thought my siblings and I were weird for reading dictionaries and the encyclopedia. This was in the mid 70's through the early 80's. We also thought going to the Book Mobile was a fun afternoon event.

I will add that our elementary school gave my two older sisters and I out of date textbooks at the end of the year to play with over the summer.

Yes we played "School" in the summer - gawd we are geeks.
posted by Julnyes at 7:52 PM on April 27, 2006


My grandmother had a set of encyclopedias that were 'article' based. They were listed by subject, were much longer than regular encylopedia entries. Pretty fascinating stuff, if not for the fact that most of the info was horribly out of date by about 40 years when I got them.

She also had some great trivia games from the early 60's we'd play that were interesting but dated. It was the mid-late 80's, but to these trivia games, the Kennedy administration was still a going concern.

This is why sites like Wikipedia are so popular now. It lets us read the encyclopedia again... Just today I started on the front page and entry surfed from a bunch of linked entries. Just like flipping open one of Nan's encylopedias & reading whatever it opens up to.

(On preview, Julnyes: I was a library assistant from grade 7-11th. I have/had stacks and stacks of out of date text books)
posted by aristan at 7:54 PM on April 27, 2006


This is why I can't bring myself to care when Pundit X or Professional Y decries Wikipedia as being less thatn perfect. I simply don't care. I can hop from one subject to the next, sponging up little factiods. Geek heaven. Is Wikipedia 100% correct? No, but, in retrospect, my old Britannicas had some pretty peculiar notions too...
posted by lekvar at 7:54 PM on April 27, 2006


No wonder I love it here. I've never met anyone else who read encyclopedias as a kid. And the dictionary. And the Book of Lists. Oh my, the Book of Lists. With its simultaneously frightening (people die during sex?) and enlightening "adult" section, it was the reference resource of choice for my pre-teen years.
posted by donnagirl at 7:57 PM on April 27, 2006


Not cover-to-cover, but yeah, I read the encyclopedia as a kid, and an old atlas from the 50s that I somehow inherited.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:05 PM on April 27, 2006


Wow, there are this many people like me?

I was sure I was the only kid who read an encyclopedia from A to Z, and now I too read Wikipedia. And the Book of Lists? I thought every bathroom in America had a copy of the Book of Lists. Sometimes I'd go to the bathroom just to read it. (Okay, that might be too much information. Sorry.)

I just love the way Wikipedia is able to take me from topic to topic. Sometimes I'll have 10 or 15 tabs open, all of Wikipedia entries to read, and usually they'll only bear a tangential relationship to each other. Chinese language next to the Cuban Missile Crisis next to Disraeli next to Czar Nicholas. It's great!

Maybe we should start our own support group for encyclopedia geeks. No wonder I like MeFi so much!
posted by lambchop1 at 8:07 PM on April 27, 2006


Comments like "wow - I really thought my siblings and I were weird" and "I thought I was the only kid who did this!" and well, pretty much most of the other comments here are really good to read and though it probably doesn't make the behavior "normal" it does prove it is far more widespread then one might think/expect, which is good to know.
posted by shoepal at 8:10 PM on April 27, 2006


me three! I still have the massive one-volume New Columbia, whihc was given to me by my parents shortly before the dawn of the Web. It included massive crossreferencing, and I would follow the crossreferences for hours. I also grew up with a Britannica Jr. from about 1940 and some unknown off-brand from the very early sixties. The Britannica's articles were much superior to the stuff in the off-brand but as one might expect very very dated.
posted by mwhybark at 8:12 PM on April 27, 2006


I'd usually just read the History & Biography entries, but my folks got their money's worth out those Brittanicas.
Well, I got their money's worth.

And hell yeah to the Charlie Brown 'Cyclopedia, too!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:22 PM on April 27, 2006


I read my Children's Britannicas and the library's various general encyclopedias when I was about 6-8. I also read much of my parents' Britannicas when I got to 11 or 12. My parents also had lots of free single volumes of various encyclopedias, so, like some others, I have a detailed knowledge of subjects that begin with A.
posted by acoutu at 8:31 PM on April 27, 2006


That's funny... I'm currently reading a Gray's Anatomy for fun.
posted by penchant at 8:41 PM on April 27, 2006


We had a set of Compton's encyclopedias in the dining room. We used them for homework, but sometimes I would just grab one and start browsing.
posted by The Deej at 8:48 PM on April 27, 2006


Am I the only one who also used to read the Larousse?
posted by slater at 8:53 PM on April 27, 2006


Yup, though we never had a really good encylopedia at home, I occasionally would grab a volume in high school (early 70s) and read a few articles. I did read the dictionary now and then. Never read the thesaurus, though I used one a LOT (none of that namby-pamby "thesaurus in dictionary form" junk for me...I need NUMBERS).

The Book of Lists was a good one, and I just finished reading "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" that I keep in the bathroom...
posted by lhauser at 8:55 PM on April 27, 2006


Two more thumbs up here for the Time-Life sets. We had the Science, Nature, and World Libraries, plus the Emergence of Man and Great Ages of Man series. So much bedtime reading when I was growing up in the '70s. We also had a supermarket-edition Funk & Wagnalls - definitely flipped through every volume of that one more than a few times (not all at once, jeez!).
posted by hangashore at 8:56 PM on April 27, 2006


Count me in.
posted by moira at 9:05 PM on April 27, 2006


Oh god yes, Time/Life. The Emergence of Man, The Old West series, with the 'look of real hand-tooled leather' -- hah. That series about the seafarers, starting with The Pirates.

Larousse Gastronomique, dictionaries, encylopedias, Gray's Anatomy, Psychopathia Sexualis by Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing -- cereal boxes, toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles. I didn't really discriminate. If it had words it was grist for the mill.
posted by seancake at 9:10 PM on April 27, 2006


No wonder I was so lonely as a kid; you were all somewhere else! Collier's Encyclopedia (skimmed), Collier's yearbooks (when I was too young to understand them), dictionaries (I spent one weekend skimming one for super-hero names and had my own Thunderstrike years before Marvel), the entirety of Man, Myth and Magic (go, jtron!), the Books of Lists. In some parallel universe I'm sure I'm a reference librarian.

My confession: to this day, if I open an encyclopedia to an entry involving a deep space photograph or some deep sea creature, it still creeps me out. The latter makes sense to me, but I don't know why the former bothers me.
posted by kimota at 9:23 PM on April 27, 2006


Me too.

Wow, so just for the record, we all read the encyclopedia and we also all found porn in the woods.
posted by ColdChef at 9:27 PM on April 27, 2006


I was poking through the World Book--and yearbooks at four, and I was very disappointed that someone else had pasted in the update stickers before me. This is how I was able to correct my second grade teacher in 1975 when she told the class that the Pilgrims were the first British to come to North America. "No, it was Jamestown."
posted by brujita at 10:00 PM on April 27, 2006


Fowler's Modern English Usage did it for me. Such an entertaining voice for reference stuff. A+++++ would flip through at random and follow cross references for hours again~~~
posted by moift at 10:08 PM on April 27, 2006


I read World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias as a kid. The Childcraft books made me so happy. I need to see if my parents still have them and whether they'll give them to me.
posted by smich at 10:14 PM on April 27, 2006


Britannica, plus these "Tell Me Why" books we had. Apparently we're all in good company: Richard Feynman talks about being read the encyclopedia as a child in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.
posted by superconnected at 10:15 PM on April 27, 2006


'65 World Book here. It came with a plastic "machine" into which you could insert circular question cards. A blank circular sheet went on top of that to record answers, via a slot in the plastic frame. I wore that thing out, but then I was good at taking tests, too.
posted by divrsional at 10:38 PM on April 27, 2006


I did as well, in 4rth grade or so. Man, I loved it. I thank god the internet didn't arrive until I was an adult.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:58 PM on April 27, 2006


I did it too. I'm a sixties kid and only a nerd by non-MeFi standards. I work in a corporate setting where I'm considered the slightly weird smart guy. Around here I'm a preppy jock.
posted by Carbolic at 11:14 PM on April 27, 2006


The only encyclopædia I had access to as a child was a 1950s-vintage set called The Book of Knowledge: even though it was out of date, I still read a whole lot of it. I too was a nerd growing up in the ’70s/’80s.
posted by misteraitch at 11:28 PM on April 27, 2006


Yes. In my house we had a one-volume encyclopaedia, which had the occasional line-drawing in it. I loved it, absolutely loved it. I also used to go to the library in town and look at Encyclopaedia Britannica.

My favourite book as a kid was an Atlas. I don't know what became of that book, I wish I still had it. I'd spend hours looking at the different countries, wondering what the lives were like of the people who lived there.

Born a nerd.
posted by essexjan at 12:45 AM on April 28, 2006


shamefully, I have to join the nerd bandwagon -- I used to read it too, as a child, and quite a lot. my parents still have it in the library. the only book I read more often as a child was a history of ancient Greece
posted by matteo at 1:12 AM on April 28, 2006


Larousse and encyclopedias yes. I love Metafilter.
posted by fondle at 2:22 AM on April 28, 2006


While I did not read encyclopaedias as a young child (I'm only a slightly older child now at the tender age of seventeen!), I absolutely tore through 'Techno Quest'. Upon Googling for this just now (for links for the ignorant Mefites ;-)), I found a surprising lack of information on this wonderful resource.

It was a science-orientated encyclopedia designed for teenagers that was delivered weekly in nice, bite-sized chunks. I loved it and am reasonably sure that it is the driving force behind my ambition to study EEng when I finish high-school. :-)
posted by PuGZ at 2:58 AM on April 28, 2006


In a part of the UK, doctors are alleged to write NFN on some patient's records, shorthand for 'Normal for Norfolk', where they're (supposedly) a bunch of inbreds with deviations from the physical norm. Similarly, your question strays into NFM territory, which seems likely to have some deviation from the standard intellectual norm.
posted by biffa at 3:19 AM on April 28, 2006


Another World Book Encyclopedia reader here. Although I am probably the only one here who used those encyclopedias (and other more subject-specific reference books) to write "reports" for fun when I was about 6 or 7. ("There are many types of cats. Some are big. Some are small. My favorite big cat is the tiger. My favorite small cat is my cat Smokey....")

I loved dictionaries too. When my third-grade teacher let me make my own spelling lists, I'd alternate between themed word lists based on an encyclopedia entry and random words found flipping through the dictionary. The almanac that came with my copy of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" also got quite the workout.

Um, yeah, apparently I was an even bigger dork than most of you.
posted by alyxstarr at 4:45 AM on April 28, 2006


As a child my favorite activity before bed was to draw a bath and read the world books until I was shivering cold in with wrinkled,translucent skin.

I believe the answer to your question is an unqualified "no".
posted by glenwood at 5:32 AM on April 28, 2006


Dictionaries and encyclopedias, how I love thee.

I got through the "P" volume before I realized that Mom was using the books to distract me from my siblings. It worked.

One of my aunts was a librarian for a high school. She'd bring me selections from the school's discards every year. It was exciting because the books were so much better than what my elementary school carried.

So, we can blame Mom and Aunt Isabelle for all the boxes of books that have to be handled whenever I've moved. It's bad enough that after helping us move, a dear friend declared "I only want illiterate friends from now on!"
posted by onhazier at 6:26 AM on April 28, 2006


I read the World Book encyclopedia when I was a kid. Not in order though. I would pick up a book at random and read it all the way through. I eventually read it all (and the Yearbooks that were published too). Usually I did this when I coudn't decide what I wanted to read next.
posted by terrapin at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2006


Well, it was normal for me -- I did it all the time. I'd read the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the atlas too.

Me too (growing up in the '50s and '60s). When we were dividing up our parents' stuff I'd have fought my brother for the well-used 1964 Britannica we used to settle arguments with except that 1) there's now the internet, and 2) I don't have the room.

For years I desperately wanted to own the 11th edition of the Britannica, by general consensus the greatest ever produced, but for a long time I couldn't afford it; when (a few years ago, at a library sale) I finally found a copy I could afford, I was forced to confront the fact that I had no room for it. But now it's online!
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on April 28, 2006


I loved my World Book Encyclopedia. If I didn't read every word of it, I came pretty damn close.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:18 AM on April 28, 2006


Yup, loved my World Books and even my grandfather's 1903 Britannicas. I even loved the smell of them.

But the best was the job I once had returning books to the stacks at the graduate library at UNC; my boss told me I was the slowest to clear a cart of any worker they'd ever had. Must have been because I took more books down than I ever put away. And how could you not look at every one?
posted by dpcoffin at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2006


Loved "D" for a while when I was obsessed with dogs and my mom wouldn't let me get one. And then "H" for horses and we couldn't afford one. And then I memorized all the feet positions for ballet from "B" after reading Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. And then "A" for Astronomy and then, and then, and then.
The encyclopedia was a great friend to this only child.
Good times indeed!
posted by like_neon at 10:56 AM on April 28, 2006


All you encyclopedia readers, give the Wikipedia Featured Articles page a try. I find it's a great jumping off point if I feel like doing some leisurely encyclopedia reading.
posted by metaname at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2006


I used to take a single volume science encyclopedia to church when I was a kid. The irony didn't hit me until a few years later.
posted by pealco at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2006


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