Ah, the Encyclopedia Brittanica is shutting down its print version. I’ve noticed that no one seems able to muster much boo-hoo over the loss of an old stalwart. It would seem it would be an excellent opportunity to moan over our Age of Idiocy and short attention spans, to ruminate how the quick sparkly lure of our telescreen diversions have made us unable to appreciate the heft, the literal breadth of an encyclopedia. But everyone knows it was done in by something better. You may miss the serendipity-do of opening up a volume and reading at random, but A) few people did this very often, and B) the serendipity of a wikipedia link-fest is much more entertaining, and gives you a sense of the interconnectivity of information in a way an encyclopedia never could.

In an Encyclopedia, things are grouped by letter.

In retrospect this was a rather limited approach.

When you think of it, an Encyclopedia is as limiting as it is daunting: this is what we know. No more. Or: this is most of what we know. You’ll never know what we didn’t put in. We had a World Book set at home, and I regarded it as the encyclopedia, because the ones at school were old and careworn and outdated - really? 48 states? - and the World Book was as modern as they came, with its beige covers and moss-green band. Wonder if there’s a picture on the internet somewhere . . . ah.



Yes. Any kid who grew up with one in the house remembers the transparent overlays they used to reveal the mysteries of the body, or other pieces of complex equipment. We remember how we prayed to the World Book come assignment time. We remember how there was a comfort in having the set on the shelf, an anchor, a repository. It was updated, too - I remember the thrill of seeing stills from “Fantastic Voyage” in the annual addition. The only thing I didn’t ask: why?

Why did my parents buy it?

It was a class-status thing, of course, the sign of a good house that valued knowledge, and had the means to enshrine a symbol of learning and striving on a shelf in the front room. If there’s a modern analogue, I can’t think of it. Printing off and framing your bookmarks? No. A bookshelf crammed with Important Works, I suppose, but the hodgepodge jumble doesn’t have the magisterial solemnity of the uniform volumes. No, class, learning and taste are now demonstrated by the absence of things. You see a messy room crammed with books, you figure: no way he knows what’s in all those. You see an empty white room with an uncluttered desk with a glowing screen on a modern desk, and think: access to everything.

The internet is all doors; the Encyclopedia was a series of closets.

You’ll excuse the shortness of this - not that you have any alternative, I suppose - because this might be the night I write The Big Chapter in the third novel, and after that there’s just two more clean-up scenes. I’ve had it in my head all day. I had in my head when I went to bed last night. To compensate, how about a new 38-page site?

Really. A few months ago I realized it was impossible to do the “Every Disney Short” site the way I’d planned, since this meant plowing through the black-and-white stuff of the 20s, and I don’t have a great deal of patience for the stuff. I would also have to do them daily to make a dent, and even then, so what? What I really wanted to do when I started the site was just catalogue the rise and perfection of the title-card art, and that’s where we start. The Disney site is now threefold - analysis of the pre-Mickey silent work, all the title cards, and personal photos and videos. You’ll find the title cards of the 1930s right here. Enjoy! See you at greater length tomorrow.














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