McGregor Says: Old books offer more than just history lessons

With a Tim Horton’s double-double in hand, clad in summer shorts, T-shirt and sandals I strolled through a few early Saturday morning garage sales. On a June day, predicted to be a scorcher, this is the best time, as the sun is still picking her way through the Brookswood trees and the odd lawn sprinkler provides a spray of cool mist. Everyone is pleasant and agreeable at this time of the morning.

One table has a very well preserved set of National Geographic Canadian Natural History books piled on the corner. The hard covers display iconic Canadian scenes of Canada geese or northern vistas. The seller shares how much enjoyment she got from collecting them and reading them and now they sit for sale, any offer accepted, no doubt.

The Encyclopedia Britannica produced its last printed edition, a 32-volume hard copy production in 2010 ending a 244-year run. The company president, now based in Chicago stated: “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The website is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

We had an old set of encyclopedias in our house that helped six kids get through school. I think the story of their arrival involved a door-to-door salesman and knowing my dad, I would have loved to have sat in on that presentation.

It was interesting when we had to use them as a resource for a school assignment. The four older kids all had the same teachers in high school so if either H. Manley or N. Manley, two brothers who taught at LHS, gave us an assignment, odds were that our older siblings had been given the same task.

Sure enough, if I went to the musty old volumes in the book case in the hall way, I would easily find where Ellen, Jack or Betty had underlined paragraphs or made notes in the margins. There was my assignment half written for me. Of course, I would delete a word here or here or rearrange a paragraph or two just so no one would figure out I was copying from the book.

Later on we upgraded to a set of Britannica Junior, and that meant we also received an annual update and neat supplements such as an atlas with amazing detailed maps and photographs. But there was no simple button pushing. We had to peruse the table of contents or search the index for information.

To locate a spot on the map we had to determine the page number and the reference co-ordinates and then, using two fingers, zero in on the location. Do they still teach any of that today? If you gave a high school student an atlas and asked him to find a Canadian city, how long would it take?

Where do old books go? I have a dozen Hardy Boys books on a shelf in my spare room. Grandkids are not interested in them because Frank and Joe Hardy never used a wand or conjured up super powers to destroy the bad guys. But I recall that the last few chapters, read under the covers with a flashlight well after bedtime were pretty darn exciting.

When it starts raining again, spend some time in a used book store. Your youth is the book mark between those musty pages.

At least, that’s what McGregor says.