, Newburyport, MA


December 28, 2013

Connecting with a world of information


This I know without looking it up: The first World Almanac I remember was the 1959 edition, and I remember it only because my father brought home the 1960 edition and threw out the 1959 number. As a young boy, I spent hours with the trim little volume filled with agate type and the sort of worthless knowledge I would eventually spend my life acquiring and then sharing, repeatedly and remorselessly, with others in a newspaper column.

For leisure, and this I know is pitiful, I flipped through the book — today the term would be “surfing,” though in the beach town where I grew up that word had a different meaning — for hours and, also pitiful, I was riveted by irresistible attractions such as its summary of the history of the Kuomintang Party or its list of agricultural products of many nations, which invariably included sugar beets. I was a very dull boy, destined to become a very dull man.

This I also learned from the newest edition of the World Almanac: Romanesque cathedrals have concealed buttresses. Some 82 percent of cellphone users texted in 2012, up from 31 percent in 2007. The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is in Oregon. Those who travel for medical treatment can deduct part of their expenses from their federal income taxes.

France adopted the Gregorian calendar before Hungary did. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Norfolk, Va., was minus 3 degrees. Tom Brady is from California. The Library of Congress closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The source of the Tombigbee River is Prentiss County, Miss. Gabon has 403 miles of rail track.

This is what I learned from Sarah Janssen, a senior editor of the World Almanac, in a telephone conversation. Only 20 people work on the book. Some of the editors’ offices are messy. As deadline looms, the staff works as many as 80 hours a week. Sarah has on occasion worked at home in her jammies. This year the Almanac added a section on marriage and shortened the biography of George W. Bush. The staff proofreads the Almanac on paper. Sometimes there is a party when the project is completed. This year there wasn’t one. There is no office cat.

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