Friday, June 14, 2024

'Panda mating fails. Veterinarian takes over.'

| January 19, 2023 1:00 AM

Just wait for it.

Full disclosure: I’m a nerd. Libraries are heaven on Earth. Encyclopedias, exciting (with attention spans so short these days, a few paragraphs tend to appeal more than a nonfiction book). Yet even my nerdy self wondered at what happened last weekend.

Picture this wild Saturday scene. Four middle aged, middle-income friends gathered round the dining table. Meal completed, teacups in hand. What was the exciting topic of stimulating conversation that made time fly? Kids and grandkids? Crazy prices? Politics, weather, shows we’re watching?

Nope. The World Almanac. Which reminded me what wonderful things almanacs are (thanks, Bill G.). Which in turn reminded me what a nerd I am and, I’ll bet, more of us are than care to admit.

You may have encountered an almanac in school. They’re like mini encyclopedias, with even less attention required but which ironically garner more. You may have heard of the Farmer’s Almanac, oft cited when defining a harvest moon or looking up astronomical data, tides, or — seriously — a recipe. From almanacs you can get data about constellations, weather, current events, maps, books and a lot more.

Benjamin Franklin wrote one.

An almanac is a book published every year with data about a particular subject (usually a broad one). They’re big on short facts and statistics, but typically include some explanation.

Almanacs are old; the first appeared in the mid 15th century. Franklin started his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 (Poor Richard was his pseudonym), which lasted 25 years and helped promote Franklin’s printing business.

When almanacs began, reliable information was hard to come by and people were hungry for it. With an almanac poor folks — which back then was nearly all folks — could buy just one book and get a resource that helped them navigate life in myriad ways. Astronomical, meteorological and nautical data helped them guess the weather and the best time for plantings, journeys and navigation, improving their odds for successful crops, business and safe travel.

Almanacs still entertain with facts both random and subject-centric (hence our lively time last weekend; what party animals). Beyond the traditional Farmers and World Almanacs, they have almanacs for baseball, jokes, kids, stars, even spells.

One lists the year’s worst headlines: “Hospital sued by 7 foot doctors.” “Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers.” (And panda mating. Poor vet.)

The World Almanac was first published by the New York World newspaper in 1868. With about 30% new information annually it’s America’s bestselling reference book, with more than 83 million copies sold last year to individuals, libraries and businesses. The other day we used it to get facts straight on geography, government and climate.

The 2023 World Almanac reviews the year’s big events, plus extras purely for interest. Right out of the gate it was No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. In it, you can read about elections, Queen Elizabeth and Ukraine. Also sports trivia, striking photography in “The Year in Pictures” and “The World a Glance.” Pop culture, science, offbeat stories and who knows what else. If you like “random facts,” or winning arguments with evidence, it’ll be a hit.

Plus it’s a lot more reliable, and at least as entertaining, as social media clickbait. You’re certainly a lot safer quoting it.

Get it locally through The Well Read Moose for $17.99. If you just can’t read a book in print, try

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Sholeh Patrick is an unapologetically nerdy columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email