We've been clearing out again at home and can’t believe how much we've already given away to local charity shops – everything from clothes to small items of furniture. Far too much kept and accumulated in this modern detached house since we moved here well over twenty years ago from a large four-floor Victorian semi. We’re hoping to eventually downsize again, sooner rather than later, hence the reason for our continuing efforts at getting rid of as much as possible before then.
As all writers and readers know, parting with books is one of the hardest decisions. I've so far managed to empty one tall, narrow book case (out of nine!) but despair of ever emptying even one more. What to keep and what to let go? It’s easier with paperbacks that I can replace if necessary, or read on kindle. But this weekend, I've been rediscovering my precious set of The Children’s Encyclopedia edited by Arthur Mee.
We didn't have a lot of spare money for books when I was a child and I haunted the library as soon as I could get there by myself. However, my father bought a complete set of The Children’s Encylopedia for us and I discovered a whole world of learning, imagination and wonder. Much as I enjoyed playing outdoors, I loved rainy days sitting at the table in the cosy living room with one of the huge volumes open in expectation.
From these, I grew to love Aesop’s fables, nursery rhymes and fairy tales that my mother hadn't already read to us, legends, art history, French, history, literature and a passing interest in dozens of other subjects. I don’t think it's a coincidence that French was always one of my favourite subjects and that I eventually went on to study literature, history, philosophy, art history and music in the first year of my Open University degree. Not content with that, I then did the MA in literature with history as a mature student.
These encyclopedias, which were brought into my ordinary, large family in a working class area in the west coast of Scotland, built the foundation of my life-time of curiosity, learning and imagination. They are now rather the worse for wear and one of the ten volumes is missing, but one look through a few pages this morning convinced me these must stay. And I think I’ll be spending some of the winter gradually skimming through them again. They may be out of date as far as modern thinking is concerned, but those pages contain worlds of knowledge that can never be replicated by the Internet. More importantly, they’re testament to a wonderful childhood and a priceless introduction to education.
Does anyone else have a set?