For the Health of a Good Mind is a Good Book

The other day I embarked on yet another trip to the library. Yes, I’m a book nerd. However, instead of searching upstairs in my usual hub of nonfiction shelves I investigated the downstairs room of books-to-be-abandoned for $1 to $2 each.

It was sad. Sometimes I check shelves to reread certain books that I grew up on. There are certain illustrated encyclopedias that I simply adored over the years and they are far more educational that most books published today. I find most modern science books overemphasize the fancy photography and inject lazy, overused textbook examples of basic concepts. Not my favorite library books. Too bad I tend to be the only one to see things that way.

Three of the four Equinox (Oxford) published The Encyclopedia of Animals were for sale. I simply had to save them…and the Natural History Press’s Blood—Natural History Press from the 1960s produced incredibly readable, but detailed, short books on any natural history topic you can think of. I need to add to my collection.

I like to collect illustrated encyclopedias. They are the kind of books that I can learn from and enjoy no matter how old I am, from age 10 to 24 and counting.

So I saved all four books. But I’m not content. No, I checked that library bookstore because there have been many books I love, or want to love, that have gone missing. I believe this is where they went—and from there to places I can never hope trace. I must periodically check this room from now on. After all, nothing like paying a dollar or two for a treasure, especially if it means you can guarantee you can reread it.

Apparently that is not what libraries are. Libraries reflect the city they are named after. Often my dad would complain about this library having a limited selection. But how do librarians determine what lies within? New trendy books, books donated by local patrons, and books that local patrons check out a minimal number of times per year.

In my local library, most science books are the ones written for entertainment—the creative and gimmicky books—or filled with pictures for those with short attention spans.

encyclopedia spread
Behold! A striking balance of illustrations and detailed narrative that puts college textbooks to shame. (Really, why do college courses focus on material that makes most sense if you continue on that subject for multiple semesters instead of dabbling some qualitative information that you can share after each class?)

While some of the creative and gimmicky science books can educate as well as entertain, they are also a sad reflection of the community’s lack of intellectual ambition. We had decades of solid, well-written books in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 90s (not sure why I never see anything from the 80s). The last 15 years have been difficult to find quality content.

Maybe I’ve read too many articles about science illiteracy in North America lately. Considering that most of the books I like also originate from Britain, perhaps it is just the North American publishing industry “dumbing down” science. Many articles also address how the United States falls behind in math and science—test scores and general literacy—than all other developed nations and a few developing nations.

Concerned, I am. Why do kids love nature so much but teens and adults dislike and ever fear it? How unfortunate. And a good book can cure that.


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