I Blame It On Nancy

March 16, 2012

My favorite reading genre is the mystery. This is my mom’s favorite genre also, and while I could blame my literary predilection on her, I choose to blame Nancy Drew.

Nancy came into my life as soon as I could read well enough to tackle her books. I don’t remember who introduced me to my first Nancy Drew book; perhaps my mom, or maybe a sympathetic teacher or librarian. No matter, I devoured as many of the books in the series as I could get my hands on, spending many happy hours following clues with Nancy and her friends.

As a quiet and shy child, I deeply admired Nancy, and would have loved to be more like her. Nancy, the motherless daughter of an attorney named Carson Drew, was spunky, fearless, intelligent and compassionate—a fine, and somewhat unusual role model for girls at the time the books first came out (see below). She solved mysteries in her fictional hometown of River Heights with the help of her friends, cousins Bess and George (a girl).

The story of Nancy Drew is an interesting one. She first made her appearance in 1930 in The Secret of the Old Clock. The first 34 volumes were published between 1930 and 1956. Eventually, 175 volumes were published in the “classic” Nancy Drew series (there are several “spin-off” series that bear her name). Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, created Nancy, wrote many of the plotlines and hired ghostwriters to complete the books. All the Nancy Drew mysteries have been published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, but were ghostwritten by a number of different people, including Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the original 30 mysteries. Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet Adams, edited and wrote many of the Nancy Drews until her death in 1982. She also revised the original 34 stories beginning in 1959, to eliminate racist stereotypes. In the process, she also shortened the books slightly and toned down Nancy’s independent personality.

Beautiful endpapers
According to Wikipedia, more than 80 million copies of the various Nancy Drew series’ books have been sold. The books have been translated into 45 languages and Nancy has been featured in five movies, two TV shows and numerous computer games.

One of my happiest childhood memories revolves around Nancy. When I was about 8 or 9, one morning when I came to the breakfast table, there was a pile of books sitting next to my place. While I ate my cereal, I cast wondering glances at the stack of perhaps 10 to 15 Nancy Drew books. Where did they come from? We didn’t have the money to buy many books, certainly not this many at one time. My mom was rushing around getting ready for work so it took me a few moments to get her attention to find out what this unlooked for treasure was all about. She found the books, she said, when she went to the apartment complex’s dumpster to throw out our trash. The books, though not brand new, were in good condition, though most were missing their dust jackets, exposing their tweedy blue covers.

A windfall of books like this seemed like a miracle to me. I still remember the amazed reverence I felt when those books appeared on the breakfast table. Through many years and many moves, I’ve managed to keep a small selection of these treasured books, and I have them displayed in my office. After researching Nancy for this blog post, I pulled down several of my remaining volumes. To my delight, most are the original, unrevised copies from the 1930s. Only one still has a dust cover. The rest retain their tweedy blue glory.

Through the years I moved on to other authors—Erle Stanley Gardner and his Perry Mason mysteries, everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, and eventually many, many more mystery authors like Patricia Wentworth, Rex Stout, and Marjory Allingham. (I do read more “modern” mysteries, but they aren’t quite as cozy and comforting as the vintage authors I keep returning to.) But my heart will always have a special soft spot for Nancy, the teenage girl who chased villains in her blue roadster.

What were your favorite books from childhood?

My proudly scrawled name
For more information on Nancy Drew, click here.

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  1. I remember reading Nancy Drew mysteries too. I also read and enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. These days my favorite genre seems to be historical fiction.

  2. Cheryl--did you read anything by Madeleine L'Engle when you were a kid? I read A Wrinkle in Time and a few others. She was interesting and different.

    I like historical fiction, too. What are some of your favorites? I don't know if she qualifies for this genre, but I really like Susanna Kearsley.

  3. Kathy, this is so cool ... I read Nancy Drew books too; but didn't know all about the history behind them. Lucky you to have those special books and memories.

    I still have a copy of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew; and I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Also, Harriet The Spy and Pippi Longstocking were favorites of mine. Oh, The Yearling and The Secret Garden.

    Kathy M.

  4. I think my strongest memories of books were the ones written by Louisa May Alcott. I love her books of the four girls growing up in Little Women. Such different personalities all woven together! I need to go back and visit the girls again....

  5. Kathy--There's just something so comforting about childhood favorites! I have a copy of The Secret Garden, too, but I didn't read it until I was an adult!

  6. Laure--Louise May Alcott is a favorite of mine, too. I just found a copy of Little Wives, a sequel to Little Women at the library bookstore. I've never read it--have you? I also liked LMA's series of books that features a girl named Rose. I still have copies of those books, too.