Donald J. Sobol, author of the beloved Encyclopedia Brown children’s mystery book series, passed away on July 11, 2012, at the age of 87. A former reporter for the New York Daily News, Sobol wrote short mysteries for a decade before starting on the Brown books in 1963.
Sobol wasn’t the only famous writer to shuffle off this mortal coil in recent days. Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and other motivational books, died on July 16. He was 79.
I grew up reading the adventures of Encyclopedia Brown, his business associate and tough female bodyguard Sally Kimball, and the boy most likely to die in a federal penitentiary, Bugs Meany. I also once owned a copy of Covey’s popular book, and I’m pretty sure that I read much of it, possibly the whole thing. As a Well-Read Man, it is my responsibility to ponder which of these books had the most influence on me.
Of course it was the Encyclopedia Brown books. The problem with motivational books is that they require motivation. To have Covey’s book influence your daily life, you must read it while sitting up straight in a firm, wooden chair with plenty of incandescent light nearby, highlighter in hand. Easing back on a comfortable sofa with a lemonade nearby won’t do it. I know; I’ve tried. But that posture does work for Sobol’s books, which is why they were so good.
More than just entertaining stories, Sobol’s writings were miniature brainteasers that trained elementary school students how to thing through a problem. Covey’s book also teaches you to think through things, but for some reason, it was the lessons I learned from Encyclopedia that worked their way into my thinking processes. To this day I can’t name one of the seven habits. Can you? Encyclopedia could.