Sunday, November 17, 2013


Old story, new update.

Eons ago I subscribed to the Scientific American Library, a series of books that would come out every few months for about $20 each.

The first book was, "Powers of Ten," a visual exploration of the very large, the Universe to the very small, the inside of the nucleus of an atom.  Each page represented a power of ten magnification (or reduction) from the previous page.  Fascinating book.  Way pre-Internet.  Published in 1982, the book transcribed the essence of the 1977 film by Charles and Ray Eames.

Great concept, fantastic visual book and a real keeper.

So it was with most of the books in the series, always a surprise to open the package.  Alas, all good things come to an end and several years into the series the books came more infrequently, were thinner and less comprehensive and the subject matter not as interesting.  I began to return books, as was my privilege, until the publishers got snippy and told me I either had to start buying the books or drop the subscription.

I dropped the subscription as did many other subscribers and the program faded away.  Good while it lasted.

The new update is that in making room on the bookshelf for tomes littering the house it became clear that something had to give, go or be given away.  Having not cracked open a Scientific American Library book in nearly 25 years and noticing that the pages were fading, covers cracking and spines hardening, I recovered several feet of shelf space and said good-bye to old friends that were once a good buy.

The old story involves one particular book that arrived on a particular day as we came home from work.  The book was leaning against the door and I spied it as we drove into the garage.  Excitedly I commented that a new Library book had arrived and while my better half went inside to change out of her work clothes, I moseyed around to the front door, picked up the book and started to open the package.

Inside I announced, "Hey, I was right.  It's a new Scientific American Library book."

"What's it about," I heard from the back of the house.

"Fire," I shouted.

"WHAT?" came a somewhat alarmed response.

"Fire," I shouted, "the book is on Fire!"

True, that was the title and subject of the book:  Fire.

Immediately, though I had a wild-eyed, panicky, not-so-better half running down the hall prepared to man the hoses.

While I stood there calm and clueless (a persistent condition, I might add) she was looking around for the fire and only after a few tense seconds did the misunderstanding get resolved.

"Fire?" I said quietly, "the book is on Fire?"

And those were the last words heard in the house that day.

I guess there is an epilogue.  Of the twenty-plus books I culled out two as keepers:  Powers of Ten and, of course, Fire.  I mean, after all we'd been through?

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