Textbooks, Atlases, Thesauruses, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias. I’m a sucker for weird reference books. Not just the common ones like Webster, but ones dedicated to specific fields or topics. It’s a weird compulsion, but the kind of information one can gather from a really weird dictionary or encyclopedia is superlative to that of any other knowledge medium. I find them more entertaining than a novel. Their indices and comments are as artistic to me as the contours of a flower. Their comprehensiveness a testament to the gathering of knowledge.
I suppose I first noticed it a few years ago when I was shopping with my Mom at Costco. I wandered into the books and came upon The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. The book was full of charm, sarcasm, humor, tragedy, and an appreciation for the normal things in life. It was by no means an extensive index. It was alphabetical, but the point was not definitions or history. Every object had a story of particular significance to this individual human being. It was like poetry.
Next I bought Know-It-All. The comical and superfluous exploits of a man bereft with his brother-in-law’s superior knowledge base. He takes on a project to read and consume the knowledge contained within the ENTIRE Encyclopedia Britannica. Much of the book is notation on interesting facts that few people know or consider. While the exercise creates a great amount of pain and tension, it proves worthwhile. This book explains and explores the quintessential drive within every person who collects knowledge.
At this point in time, it became apparent to me that reference books are bubbling with utility and intrigue, they merely need people to give them life. My collection exploded into several medical dictionaries, a dream encyclopedia, the encyclopedia of made-up languages, a sourcebook of signs and symbolism, a heavy duty study bible, survival guides, mathematical proofs, crossword dictionaries, scrabble dictionaries, rhyming dictionaries, and artistic journals.
I think it’s closely connected to my love of analyzing and writing essays. The more-informed opinion has less chance of being wrong, or at least it has more appeal as an argument.
What are some of your obsessions? Do you have any books to suggest?