I have a superpower. It’s called The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, and if you’re reading this, there’s a high chance I’ve already preached to you about it. I recognize this book as a superpower because it has helped me understand life a little better, in undeniably countless moments since I first opened it. It’s a key that opens so many doors to the culture and knowledge encapsulating the world, to the things everyone should ideally know, or strive to learn in a lifetime. It’s a reference guide; an anthology, an encyclopedia, a glossary, a google search; all bound into a 700 page hardback. There are over twenty sections, all of which contain the words, events, historical figures, and stories, that you could ever possibly need to know about that broad subject. Some of my favorites to flip through are World History, Mythology and Folklore, Fine Arts, and Idioms. The whole book spans an even more expansive spectrum though, from The Bible, to Physics, to Medicine and Technology. (Those are the subjects where I used to crash and burn, but now I just crash and sustain only slight first-degrees, so… progress!)
Flipping through this book gives you almost an exponential craving for more information. After reading one blurb, you might see the bolded words in it, which means that they are also defined somewhere in the book, and then read each one on their respective pages, until you have mastered the history and significance of, let’s say Passover for example (ask me anything about it).
It’s incredible how much you can piece together by doing this. One moment you can be reading the brief of an idiom, and then you find yourself wondering who the ancient ruler was that the idiom originated from, and what years he reigned, and wasn’t that during Jesus’ time? And how many different frickin' Caesar’s ruled the Roman Empire, and weren’t Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s deaths basically the final scene of Romeo and Juliet, so how did Shakespeare get away with writing two tragedies with the same ending? And suddenly, you’re knee deep in detailing a timeline of the greatest artists of the Renaissance era. It’s a powerful and mind boggling path, and I really recommend traversing it. I also recommend hitting up the mythology section after a few hits— it is wild.
Either way, once you retain the names and stories, it feels as though allusions to them come hailing in from all sectors of your life. This goes for literature, and history, and all the others too, of course— and it’s exciting to catch and make sense of them. Cultural literacy is so important in understanding the past, recognizing the present, and preparing for the future, that each little nugget of information starts to feel like puzzle pieces to an enormous jigsaw board; there are parts fitting together in all different corners of the picture, and gradually, they're all making their way towards each other to reveal their unified entity. As more of each category of life is learned, they all begin to correlate and apply to each other more smoothly, and the picture becomes clearer.
My favorite part of this book is exploring it with other people. I showed it to my roommates back at the beginning of the Spring semester, and the superpower expanded throughout the whole house and was practically ricocheting off the walls. It was beautiful— we quizzed each other, made games out of it, posed questions, kept score, and cultured ourselves together. If I was reading it and Kelsey came to join me on the couch, she would tell me to read it out loud as she ate dinner or watched TV, so that we could learn the stuff we found most interesting together. Over the course of the semester, I showed it to at least 25 people, and on God, 100 percent of them wanted to buy their own once they took a look at it. About 75 percent of them actually did, and now have their own copies. And then there’s my aunt, who ordered it on her phone literally as I was telling her about it for the first time. It has become quite the hot commodity, and I, its loyal prophet. So, to top things off, make sure you have one of these bad boys on your shelf at home, so we can all drum up a team for the next trivia bar night and absolutely dominate.