My Childhood Encyclopedia Set

Growing up I had an encyclopedia set on shelves in my bedroom.

I don’t know how they got there or when they got there. They were just always there. 

The set was a bit out of date, but I credit that encyclopedia set with instilling in me the love of learning and reading that I’ve always had.

I devoured that entire set, probably reading the entire thing several times throughout the years.

It became a trusted friend, a comforter when I was feeling down, and a source of discovery and joy. While learning something new probably doesn’t compare to Columbus’ first sight of land, in my childhood mind new discoveries in those books probably carried equal excitement.  

Today we have instant access on our phones to whatever information we want whenever we want it. It’s a different world. The difference is my encyclopedia set didn’t come with the distractions that my phone does.

Growing up in the 1980’s, however, my encyclopedia set put the whole word at my fingertips. I spent countless sleepless nights on my bed getting immersed in various topics with the soft lamp light glowing dimly, while staying as quiet as possible so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.

One topic, particularly in history, always seemed to lead into another, sending me down various rabbit holes as I sought to make sense of whatever I was learning about. The best part was, after years of having them on my shelf, there were still nuggets in there I had never read or had forgotten.

I still remember the used book store smell when I cracked a volume open. Even today, when I sense a similar smell it transports me back to those sleepless nights reading alone by lamp light.

It strikes me that children today will never get to experience this. After all, who still has encyclopedia sets in their homes when we have Wikipedia on our iPads? Kids today, even if they are interested in learning, face the danger of distraction on their devices.     While so much more information exists in cyberspace than can ever be put in actual books, the fact is the books don’t have cat memes, social media, or Roblox to provide distraction and instant dopamine hits.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I realize now that my time alone with my encyclopedia set was learning for the love of it.

I loved learning alone with total freedom. At the same time, I hated the stifling school environment where the learning felt forced and was simply not fun.

I guess, in a sense, my time with my encyclopedia set was a more intellectual version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for me where I was free to intellectually transport myself where I felt led.  

This is completely different from the curricula-based school environment where children are trained to be subservient cogs who will eventually trade their time and souls for money in our modern-day economy. They don’t learn to love learning for the sake of learning and exploring the world and their minds.  

It was freedom, and it taught me that learning is fun.

I am so grateful that my parents put those books in my room. I know that is the reason I enjoy reading and learning so much still to this day. I also know it’s the reason I still know, to this day, a whole host of random facts.

This love of learning just to learn is something I try to instill in my kids, though it’s hard because of the constant distractions that bombard their minds constantly. It’s a struggle, but it’s one we as parents should undertake. If kids are not taught that learning can be fun, despite what they experience in school, they will never develop intellectual curiosity and a sense of wonder at the world as a whole.   

That’s tragic.