It is one of my favorite things. A stash all things, or at least most thing, or a large selection of things on a particular subject. Dictionaries of all sorts and encyclopedia fall into this category and both items have always intrigued me. I got through "S" of the Encyclopedia Britannica when I was 13, but was interrupted by the sudden appearance of girls. I lost interest in a variety of things at that point, not the least of which was reading an encyclopedia. However, the affection for compendiums of information and stuff stayed with me.
My two all-time favorite compendiums are The Complete New Yorker and The Baseball Encyclopedia. One delivers the best writing produced between1925 and 2005 the other the history of baseball translated into numbers that don’t lie.The Complete New Yorker comes on CD-Rom, making it somewhat less decadent than the Baseball Encyclopedia, which in my collection is a 4 inch thick, thin-paged, bound time-suckers.
The world of wine has its collection of compendiums. They usually are reprints of reviews. The best,
however is not this at all but rather the Oxford Companion to Wine. Aptly
named as it truly is a companion, the OCW is my favorite wine book of all time.
I simple love the level of ambition represented by the OCW. Imagine, trying to put the majority of wine knowledge in a single volume. It’s more than ambition. It’s foolhardy, which is often the best kind of ambition. The compendiums of wine reviews are something much different and much more pedestrian in effort. They are data dumps. Useful, but simple and not too inspiring.
Now, it’s true that the Complete New Yorker and the Baseball Encyclopedia are data dumps in their own way. However, the data being dumped into these projects are composed of real cultural artifacts. Think about it…the complete story, in numbers, of every ball player who ever made it to the Major leagues, the box scores of every playoff and world series game, and the all time leaders of a massive number of single season and career statistical categories. The numerical history of America’s past time in a single book. Or, the complete works of America’s most important literary vehicle of the past century, all right there, nicely packaged in CD-Rom format, sitting on my bookshelf.
Everyone should possess a physical copy of some sort of compendium, if only to have the opportunity to run their fingers over it from time to time and feel the texture of ambition.