Tuesday, January 02, 2007


If nothing else, let's learn something this month

Now that the holidays are over and it's January, my thoughts have turned to big winter reading projects. I'm sneaking up on the Odyssey, but I've also been browsing a lot in one of my favorite reference books, The Reader's Encyclopedia, edited by William Rose Benét (my edition is Crowell 1948; there are of course more recent editions). I use this book almost daily (and god knows I used it while reading the Iliad), but I've never sat down and read it cover to cover. What? Read a reference book? Yes, read a reference book. When I first got into the book business I used to read rare book price guides and auction records from cover to cover. And I've always liked dictionaries. Anyway, this month I'm going to work my way through the alphabet in The Reader's Encyclopedia. One letter a day. I'll be posting a few of my favorite entries here (keeping them short of course to appease the righteous and vengeful copyright infringement deities). Let's start right now:

Aldiborontephoscophornio. A courtier in Henry Carey's burlesque, Chrononhotonthologos (1734). Sir Walter Scott called his printer and personal friend James Ballantyne by this name. (p.20)

almighty dollar. Washington Irving seems to have been the first to use this expression which has become a byword for American materialism. (p.25)

Angurvadel. Frithiof's sword, inscribed with runic letters, which blazed in time of war, but gleamed with a dim light in time of peace. (p.36)

autonym. One's own name, as opposed to pseudonym. Hence a work published under the author's real name. (p.60)

At this rate, January will be over in no time.

Sarah, I use "The Reader's Encyclopedia" as well; maybe not every day but enough that my 1987 3rd edition is actually two books - she's split down the middle at page 643 (with a few pages in between not certain on which side they fit). Before I read it cover-to-cover, I think I'll take up bookbinding as a hobby - lol :)-

I've met a couple people (both femmes) who've read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. I tell them I've read about a third, because I proofread the damn thing for Senator William Benton, University of Chicago Trustee, CEO of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (I exaggerate!)

My Benét's starts with Aakaer, Jeppe (1866-1930) and runs for 1091 p to Zwingli, Ulrich, the Swiss religious reformer.

Pleasant reading! I'll stick to my stack of 58-page Penguins from the 60th anniversary issue. That stack is thicker than Benét's but not as many words, not by a long shot.
Sales are slow, huh? --Charlie
I have the third edition also, but I prefer the earlier edition for more arcane entries, and for the editorial comments scattered throughout.

I sold my 11th edition of the Britannica - it was the large paper edition and took up too much space - also the volumes were very difficult to hold while reading (huge and heavy). I've wanted to replace it with the india paper edition but have yet to find a set I can afford. Will I read it cover to cover? No. Well. Maybe. It's a tempting thought!

Have fun with the Penguins - a noble reading project. Great stuff in that series...

Yes, Charlie, slooooow. Lots of time to read right now. But that's ok, after the holiday madness of last month. Time to restock, and put my feet up and read the rest of the time. And blog, of course.
But "The Reader's Encyclopedia" you are reading is hardcover; the one I referred to in my comment is in paper.

This just hit me yesterday, when I saw vols 1 and 2 for sale orphaned from vols 3 and 4 of the 1948 edition of Benét's. I did not buy them, though the price was low, because it is a real big frustration to hold incomplete sets of reference books.

I'm glad to learn that you sold a set of Britannicas . . don't you wish everybody could?

If you ever run across sources that discuss encyclopedia entries and articles and the distinction between having them signed or unsigned by the author, I would find that issue interesting. Some interesting historical figures wrote entries in earlier E.B. editions. Today, authorship of entries is regarded as immaterial, which is a shame.
Thanks for the thoughts and excerpts. I've added a link to your plan to my Saturday Review of Books at www.semicolonblog.com. I try to collect reviews from various bloggers each Saturday, and you're welcome to post a link to a book review any Saturday.
Hi again Cy - I don't carry sets of encyclopedias at the shop, unless it's the 11th Britannica or something of similar quality (of course I would like earlier editions of the Britannica, also - and there is a pretty nice facsimile of the first edition widely available for those of us who can't afford an actual first). I've never seen a book about the making of the set, or the editor/compilers, but there must be one somewhere...

My copy of "The Reader's Ency" is indeed one volume - a fat hardcover with a good sewn binding. It's a pleasure to read!

Sherry, thanks very much for the link - I appreciate it, and if my reading program ever organizes itself into coherence, I will of course send reviews your way. Thanks for thinking of me.
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