In our digitally drenched age, I find myself fascinated by the "refresh" function on today's more dynamic Web sites. The steadily blinking, disappear-and-reappear changes to washingtonpost.com and my AOL home page reassure me in a nanosecond that the information I take in is perpetually updated -- with zero effort by me.
Small problem, however. Computers have so accelerated our thought processes, so raised our expectations and so reduced our patience that nowadays when I consult one of my venerable reference works, I take for granted this same up-to-the-minute "refreshment." Instead, it hits me like a punch in the nose when I discover that my research sources are frozen in an era when Jimmy Carter was president, the Bee Gees ruled radio and TV news was a half-hour a day.
So, you ask, why not go digital? I mean, who still buys their children a heavy shelf of World Book Encyclopedia volumes when you can score a current and searchable version that fits in your coat pocket?
Truth is, I'm too attached to the glorious objects that give ambiance to my thinking man's study to trade them for a rack of utilitarian plastic and ephemeral data.
Take my Webster's New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary (Second Edition Deluxe Color, 1980). It sits chest-high on the wooden bookstand I bought as a major furniture statement from Levenger (company slogan: "Tools for serious readers").
Stored majestically below the dictionary is my blue phone-book-size Columbia Encyclopedia (published 1975). I treasure its succinct entries particularly because I got it free by joining a book club.
Borrowed from relatives is a volume from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, published in 1910 at the height of the British Empire. I like browsing it because it was read by my grandparents.
Nearby is William L. Langer's Encyclopedia of World History (fifth edition, revised and updated, 1972), which I treasure as a gift from my dad when I started college (though it gives no clue to the outcome of the Vietnam War).
My trusty Chicago Manual of Style (12th edition, 1982) is no match for the newly released 15th edition with all its Internet guidance. But I hold on to it because it was a gift from my wife, symbolizing her faith in my wordsmithing.
My 1980 edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States can be blown out of the water by today's Web site version. But as a Washington guy, I like flipping through tables from back when the OMB was the Bureau of the Budget and gross domestic product was gross national product.
My well-thumbed Rand McNally U.S. Road Atlas (1993) doesn't show all the new freeways they've added in Atlanta, but I cling to it because of all the wonderful vacations it helped me plan.
My Guinness Book of World Records dates from 1995, and though many hot-dog-eating records have been broken since then, I'm attached to this edition because its cover design gives my library a lighthearted touch.
My tilted globe made by Replogle in the early 1980s rested atop a stereo speaker for a good decade after the Soviet Union collapsed. I refused to replace it until I found one with oceans colored in the same pleasing and offbeat tan.
My Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: 1955 to Present, compiled by Joel Whitburn, interests me because of the word "present." At the time of purchase, that meant 1983, which is about when I stopped listening to current radio.
My paperback copy of Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide for a decade was the embarrassingly obsolete 1989 edition. I stuck with it because it had a useful index of actors and directors, which is missing from the fatter recent editions.
Finally, my 2000 World Almanac leaves off before the inauguration of George W. Bush. But it allows me to continue living the fantasy that the ongoing Florida recount may still give us a different president.
Late in the evening, when I finish a session of writing, turn out the lights and drift up to bed, I take comfort in the security that all my pet reference works remain aglow like little pilot lights on my study's shelves.
I then enter a dream world in which each is being faithfully refreshed while I slumber.
In my heart, dear reader, I also believe that if you put aside this newspaper and pick it up again later, you'll discover that even this essay has been refreshed!