The Bloodless Death of Encyclopedia …

March 18, 2012 at 8:15 am (Book Commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Is this the end of Encyclopedia Brown?

Encyclopedia Brown: Super Sleuth
by Donald J. Sobol
New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2009

One of his major sources of information is ceasing to print.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica is gone, in critical condition, dying, dead.

How will we solve our mysteries now?

For those not in the know, Encyclopedia Brown is a famous literary sleuth; one of the youngest – he’s permanently a fifth-grader in small town America. He runs a detective agency with his junior partner, Sally Kimball. They solve crimes, large and small, for the minuscule fee of twenty-five cents.

He’s called Encyclopedia because he’s read the encyclopedia from A to Z.

Everyone … called him Encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is a book or set of books filled with facts from A to Z. So was Encyclopedia’s head. He never forgot anything he read. (p.3)

Will he be replaced by a Google George, an Internet Irene, a Search Engine Sam or a Wikipedia Winnie?

Is it even possible to “read” the entire web?

Aren’t printed books better?

Let us look to Encyclopedia Brown’s friends for the answer.

His friends joked that he was better than a computer for looking up answers to their questions.
He never crashed! (p.3)

I love how the Encyclopaedia Britannica is parceled out into the micropaedia, the macropaedia, 2 indexes and a propaedia. The core of the propaedia is its Outline of Knowledge, which seeks to provide a logical framework for all human knowledge. I love this. I love being able to sit with this one volume and internalize its logic. I love the clear pages unraveling the insides of the human body. I love the micro articles and the macro articles. I love the indexes and the bibliographies within articles. I love the heft and the smell and the feel of its knowledge. One day I will own the infamous 11th edition and read it, all 29 volumes, cover to cover.

Yes, I could read it online but, in my mind, knowledge is a tangible thing, heavy in its imparting, and glorious in its language, Knowledge needs to be touched and caressed.

The first Encyclopedia I loved was the World Book. I love their old look, classic and stately. I love their new look, somewhat whimsical, as the spine compilation picture changes, year from year. It makes the books stand out, sitting quietly on the library shelf waiting, anticipating, almost breathing.

The first topic I remembering researching was cats. I didn’t know there were so many different breeds. I remember sitting on the rug in front of the encyclopedia shelf, in the school library, flipping pages and pulling down other volumes as additional topics needed researching.

Yes, I do this on the computer – travel from hyperlink to hyperlink – start out at cats and end up (inexplicably) reading physics. Sometimes it’s quicker to ask the computer a question than travel to a library to seek out an encyclopedia.

They tell us Change is good? But what about the aesthetics of knowledge? What about the beauty of a well stocked, well loved book case? Knowledge stored and drawn out of metal and steel does not stir my soul as much as knowledge drawn out of paper and ink, dust and smell, touch and sight.

To first find knowledge in the computer I must have a concrete concept in mind. To dig knowledge out of an encyclopedia, all i have to do is open it and begin with an open mind and an open heart.

Taking these pictures in my local library, I discover a new encyclopedia to covet.

I can’t give up my Encyclopaedia Britannica dream. I want the 11th edition sitting on my book shelf calling out to be picked up and studied deeply.

As I’m sure Encyclopedia Brown and Sally would as well!

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1 Comment

  1. My Book Obsession | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] I have been obsessed with female detectives since I got my hands on the Encyclopedia Brown series when I was in elementary […]

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