Looking back, I suppose it seems strange that, as poor as my family was, we had our very own set of World Book Encyclopedias--and we weren't afraid to use them. After we'd washed our hands, that is. It's a tribute to my mother and her desire to give her children the best advantages she could that she scraped together the money to buy us those books. I, for one, made good use of them.
Growing up on a farm, we had chores, and I don't mean "take out the trash" and "clean your room." At a very early age I worked in the garden, fed and watered livestock, and even helped during slaughtering, if you can count hysterical crying and pleading to spare a life as "helping." Yes, there's reasons I'm vegetarian, but I digress. The point is, when my brother, sister, and I were kids, we had very little free time, and were permitted only one hour of TV per day, if we watched TV at all (oh shudder in horror you TV fans!). What time I wasn't working, you could usually find me in lying in the hallway, a World Book Encylopediea in hand.
The colorful pages of those books took me places I never imagined, and I learned of such notable characters as Joan of Arc, studied Clothing Through the Ages, History, Animal Behavior, and thumbed through pictures of different breeds of horses, hoping "some day." Alas, our old plow mule didn't come close to the Morgan or Arabian of my dreams. (Yes, it was the seventies; yes, we had tractors. No, we didn't use them and plowed with a mule instead. Mom has never completely explained this logic to my satisfaction.)
Anyway, imagine this little farm girl, whose world suddenly got a whole lot larger thanks to twenty-four leather-bound volumes. Sometimes I reread favorites passages, other times I'd go where I'd not been before. I expanded my horizons, and learned to question what I'd been told, deciding things for myself. (I think my mother just hoped I'd get good grades, which I did.)
Now, when I'm in the mood to research, I simply go online, and pick bizarre topics that I find fascinating, devouring every scrap of information I can before moving on to the next shiny new thing to catch my eye. But in the old days, you couldn't beat good ole World Book.
It's the reading that opened my mind and taught me how to see things from others' points of view, instilling the compassion thats still a big part of me today, and, I think, helps me to create characters whose viewpoints are different from my own. And if I happened to look up things my mother wasn't ready to explain... well...
I'd not thought of those encyclopedias in years until that fateful day I sat down and explained my writing to my mother. She said, "I guess all that time you spent reading the encyclopedias paid off." She also says she's proud of me. No matter how old a person gets, is still great to make your parents proud, isn't it?