encyclopediabrown

Encyclopedia Brown

“He does not like to read,” wrote my aunt of a ten year old cousin.

“Well, what about Harry Potter?”

“Too scary,” she replied.

Having encountered this idea recently from a trusted source, it was not entirely new to Rodrigo and me. More for our entertainment than my cousin’s benefit, we spent a very enjoyable hour on the couch writing up a list of all the non-scary children’s books we enjoyed at his age.

“How about Encyclopedia Brown?” Rodrigo suggested. “He basically solves all his puzzles from the dining room table, and when he’s out and about, he takes around a girl assistant who can beat up any kid in town.”

“Never read it,” I said.

Twenty four hours later saw us standing in the children’s section of our public library, hip deep in precocious grade-schoolers.

“S… s… s… Sobol!” Rodrigo pulled three thin volumes from the shelf.

“Wow,” I said. “These have been here since the eighties.”

“They were written in the 60s, but I hope that won’t matter to your cousin. If they were old but good when we were ten, maybe they’ll still be old but good today.”

We brought them home and prepared to become reacquainted with our pre-adolescent selves.

Wow.

Books do not persist in the children’s section at the library by being wordy, boring, or in any way uninteresting.

Though only ten and somewhat concerned about being beaten up at school, Leroy Brown is Patrick Jane without the insensitivity, Sherlock without the psychopathy, and Hannibal Lecter without the cannibalism. He’s a refreshing proposal that brilliance can exist hand in hand with humility and professionalism; that to accept and admire genius, we need not also console ourselves that uncanny insight comes at the expense of humanity, empathy, or the ability to function as a normal human being.

For added bonus, each chapter’s mystery is solved only at the back of the book, so one can test one’s grown-up-brain against Mr. Brown’s ten-year-old insights. Spoilers for episodes of CSI, The Mentalist, and Sherlock abound! At least one chapter of the first book reveals the mechanism at the core of the great twist of Bioware’s original KOTOR.

If you are ten or have ever been ten, this exercise in humility and observation comes highly recommended.

An update to the series, Wikipedia Brown, is no doubt forthcoming.