In Archer's last Scholastic book order, I got him a 2008 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. With his delight in numbers and score-keeping, I thought it would give him plenty of browsing material.
But I was also thinking of the well-worn paperback copy of Guinness that I read as a kid. It was one of many books on our shelves to which I returned again and again. Its bite-sized chunks of facts and bizarre oddities were like salted peanuts; once I started reading them, I found it hard to stop. There always seemed to be time for just one more.
As a result, there are certain black-and-white pictures permanently engraved in my mind. The world's heaviest twins (riding the motorcycles, remember?). That Indian guy with the world's longest fingernails. The world's tallest man standing next to a normal-sized woman and a street sign.
A couple of years ago, one of our Honors students broke the record for world's largest Christmas stocking as her senior thesis. As you might imagine, the Guinness people had some regulations that had to be followed -- and their specificity made me imagine a huge vault full of the particular rules for each record category. The stocking had to be filled up to a certain height from the top, for example (the student got retailers to donate toys for this purpose, which were distributed to charity after the record attempt).
When I asked Archer whether he'd enjoyed the book, he told me that he'd read about sports records. That's all well and good, I thought, but what about the world's most fertile woman, surrounded by her dozens of offspring?