Friday, December 30, 2005

Retiring the Old Almanac

As the year winds down, I find I'm ready to retire my 2005 Old Farmer's Almanac. Already have the 2006 almanac, purchased at the supermarket checkout a few months ago.

I haven't missed buying the Old Farmer's Almanac in almost 20 years now. In fact, I still have old copies going back into the 1960s and 1970s. I never throw old copies away. Indeed, I'm always on the lookout for old almanacs in used bookstores and second-hand shops.

To be honest, I liked the Old Farmer's Almanac better in the old days, when it was less slick and less professionalized than it's become in recent years. There was something funky about the calendar tables, with cryptic astronomical symbols which meant "Mars in quadrature with Jupiter," or something of the sort. Tables of the best fishing days. Diagrams showing the size of ten-penny and six-penny nails. Notations, in Old English lettering, of "days of traditional observance in the Anglican Church calendar." Tables of high and low tides, basically intended in those days just for New England. And vaguely disreputable advertisements, "Miss Marguerite Predicts That 1967 Will Be a Year of World Import!" The "feature articles" in the OFA in those days were never much, and often enjoyably amateurish. The almanac always closed with a hippy-dippy piece by this same dude, who would explain, in loopy purple prose, how all the ecospheres of the world were but cells in one vast cosmic organism. Or somesuch.

The gradual decline of the Old Farmer's Almanac began some time in the late 1980s, shortly after they switched from a fold-and-staple binding to a binding with a solid spine. Then the cover went glossy. Then the inside pages started going glossy. The kicker came when they "redrew" the cover illustrations, from finely engraved steelplate to a much-less-detailed sloppy freehand. On the newer and simpler cover, Ben Franklin looks like a dyspeptic deadeyes.

And the feature articles have gone slick and professional. At least they didn't stick with the trend of the early 90s, when for a couple of years they flirted with political correctness, and with knowing references to sociologist Thorstein Veblen. Breezy and slick, the feature articles have taken over the almanac. I don't know that they even carry that diagram of different nail sizes any more.

Oh, I'll still buy the Old Farmer's Almanac every year. I'll even read the feature articles, and try to ignore the obvious fact that they're written for the reading consumption of suburbanites and latte-drinkers. And the old copies of the almanac will continue to accumulate in my little wooden bookrack in the half-bath upstairs, next to the toilet, where they will afford me endless browsing.

But I do wish they'd cut the feature articles by better than half, and farm them out once again to well-meaning if unpolished amateurs. I do wish they'd bring back the vaguely disreputable ads for the Rosicrucians, or "Resurrected billions to farm ocean bottoms when seas are removed by coming whirlwind! Send SASE for details." I even wish they'd go back to non-slick pulp paper, and to the old steel-engraving cover design, in which Ben Franklin looked not like a dyspeptic deadeyes, but merely dyspeptic.

Sometimes the more things change, the more they do not stay the same.



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