the love of books and Robert Chambers

When I was about eight years old, I lived in a small apartment building. A younger kid had moved into the apartment diagonally upstairs from me and was alright to play with, but in his house he had an encyclopedia set. For a glorious hour or two, I came into possession of a couple volumes for a few toy cars. While I was delighting in the successful acquisition of knowledge, his parents started to worry about the new toys and the missing books. I didn't have them long, but while I did,  it was a taste of heaven for me. Fortunately, as I grew older, my parents brought me to the library more often, and I was able to indulge in books more and more. I'm still insatiable. While reading something from the new books shelf this weekend, Darwin's Ghosts by Stott, a collection of brief biographies of some of the people who Darwin thought as forerunners of his theory of natural selection, I encountered an even more librophilic person, Robert Chambers. He writes of his discovery of a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica in a chest in his attic as a boy in the early 1800's.
Cover of
Cover of Britannica Encyclopedia (Encyclopaedia)


From that time for weeks all my spare time was spent beside the chest. It was a new world to me. I felt a religious thankfulness that such a convenient collection of human knowledge existed, and that here it was spread out like a well-plenished table before me. What the gift of a whole toy-shop would have been to most children, this book was to me. I plunged into it. I roamed through it like a bee. I hardly could be patient enough to read any one article, while so many others remained to be looked into. In the one on Astronomy, the constitution of the material universe was all at once revealed to me. Henceforth, I knew - what no other boy in the town dreamed of- that there were infinite numbers of worlds besides our own, which was by comparison a very insignificant one... I pitied my companions who remained ignorant of what became to me familiar knowledge. pp. 240-1 
I'm so jealous he got an entire set to himself. I remember when sets of encyclopedias were available in the grocery store as a subscription which each monthly payment got one a new volume. How I wished my family could have afforded that. Then I remembered the exciting possibility of the entire set fitting on one cd-rom, but I didn't have the computer to read it. Now, we have wikipedia and answers.com and the entire internet. But I still love reading books, even when they are on my Kindle, but not very much on a computer screen.
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