Let me warn you, some people think I am strange. One of the first books I read each year is the newest edition of The World Almanac. It is one of a number of routines in my reading year. I read lots of non-fiction, not enough fiction, theology, history, biography, poetry, social science, sermons, cultural analysis, skill improvement books, my annual baseball book in the summer, an Advent/Christmas book, a Holy week book, etc.. Besides these, I try to read the Bible in the first half of the year, the confession and polity book of my denomination, the operating manual of the place I work, the special year ahead edition of the Economist, and The World Almanac. To some, this all sounds over the top. But I am a firm believer that what my father told me as a boy is true—readers are leaders and leaders are readers.
Why bother with The World Almanac?
It may seem odd to read the Almanac. Here is why I do it:
1 It helps me get a snapshot of the world, the nation and the culture I live in. I get a sense of what direction it is moving. This helps me do cultural exegesis, so that I can speak, preach and write more effectively.
2 It gives me the most up to date figures, so that I am more accurate when I talk or write about things. It is a great reference tool.
3 It always gives a helpful summation of the previous year.
4 It provides useful information about demographics, the economy, the media, science and technology, religion, sports, government and entertainment.
5 It has a section reviewing basic information on US history, world history, and science, and a whole lot more.
6 It gives updates on every US state and major city.
7 It highlights milestones for the coming year—including historical anniversaries as well as special months and days.
For instance. . . .
Did you know that:
- the median income for US men in constant dollars is $32,131. (That puts things in perspective.)
- Americans spent $30 billion on books in 2010 and $94 billion on tobacco products. (How’s that for priorities?)
- the top motor vehicle producer in the world is China. (Which is almost double every other nation, and Japan is second on the list.)
- the top magazine in the USA is….The AARP Magazine, and the top selling news paper is The Wall Street Journal.
- Avatar is the top grossing movie of all time. (Disney is building its next park with an Avatar theme.)
- it has been 25 years since Allan Bloom came out with The Closing of the American Mind and Paul McCartney turns 70 in June. (Time flies).
- our prison population is 1.6 million. (The highest in the world.)
- 67% of Americans are obese or overweight. (Up about 20% since 1960.)
- the median age for marriage for men is 28 and for women is 26, and that the median number for sexual partners between age 15 and 44 for males is 5.1 and women is 3.2.
- there are more Buddhists in America than Presbyterians. (Humbling to Presbyterians.)
- the world population hit 7 billion in 2011? (It was 3 billion in 1960.)
- Americans watch an average of 34 hours of TV a week. (Oh to have 34 more hours!)
- there are now 1.5 million home school students in America.
- Harvard University’s endowment is 27 billion. (So please send no more there; help schools like RTS and CCU.)
- the top countries of origin for new immigrants to America are Mexico, China and India.
- A.J. Burnett struck out four batters in one inning in the 2011 season and that Mariano Rivera set the all-time saves record.
A cultural indicator
Useless information? Not exactly. God dropped us in this culture to know it, love the people in it, affirm what is good in it, and speak truth to it when it goes off the rails. The World Almanac is a book full of leading cultural indicators. Reading it has helped make me a better pastor, writer and preacher—and there’s nothing strange about that at all.