Monday, July 16, 2012

A Nice Man Makes Me Feel Stupid

Donald J. Sobol was probably the first man to ever make me feel stupid.

Granted, I don’t think he did it on purpose.  But at some point in my young life, one of his Encyclopedia Brown books was thrust into my hands. 

The format of the book was simple.  Various short mysteries were presented, and then Encyclopedia Brown would make some sort of vague statement, and then, if you were very, very, very smart, you (and Encyclopedia, naturally) would solve the case.

Of course, if you couldn’t figure it out, you could always flip to the back and learn the answer.

Over the years, I read several of the books, and I can count the number of times I solved a mystery on one hand.  Actually, I can count the number of times I solved a mystery on no hands.

I never solved a single mystery.

Really.  Not one. 

What’s worse is, over the years, some of the books got new titles, or were reissued with new artwork, and I’d find myself sitting at home reading a mystery I’d already read once before.

And then I would fail to solve the same mystery a second time.

One would think this would cause me to give up on the mystery genre altogether, but no.  Over the years, I read several books of this type, and I almost always failed to beat the book at its own game.

Granted, this wasn’t really my fault.  Most of the mysteries involved knowing some totally random fact that a kid my age had no reason to know. 

Ultimately, I was much more entranced by the companion volumes the author produced, which went under the title of Weird and Wonderful facts.  It was trivia stuff, with no real agenda or story beyond, “Here’s some crazy stuff about the world we live in.”

And perhaps that’s what I took away from Mr. Sobol, in the end.  I might not have gotten to feel “smart” reading his books, as I got mystery after mystery wrong.  But I certainly learned a few things.

And what can be better than a little failure and a little knowledge?

A new Encyclopedia Brown book came out a couple of years ago, after a very, very long hiatus.  I considered picking it up at the time, but in the end realized that certain childhood pleasures aren’t always as much fun as an adult.

But maybe now I’ll pick up the book, just to see if I really am older and wiser now than I was then.

And hey, even if I’m not, I’ll still learn a thing or two.

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