Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nancy Drew just turned 85. (Doesn’t look a day over 16.)

Pretty much from the moment I began reading, I loved series – getting to know the characters over time or – in the case of ageless characters – in many different situations.

Some of the series I got sucked right into have stood the test of time and actually have some literary merit. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and, most especially, Maud Hart Lovelace’s exceptionally lovely Betsy, Tacy, Tib series. (Oh, how I wanted to go back in time and know these girls in real life!)

Despite enjoying at least some good books, I wasn’t an especially discerning or picky reader.

Would I still be intrigued by what Vevi and the other Brownie Scouts were up to at Snow Valley or Silver Beach as I was when I was eight?

Maybe, maybe not. But I’m positive that some of the series I gobbled up as a kid would, if I were to revisit them, be just painful to re-read.

The Bobbsey Twins? Honey Bunch and Norman?

I suspect I would find these insipid and boring.

As I got older, I became more interested in reading about teenagers and young women.

I devoured so many Cherry Ames and Sue Barton books, it’s a wonder I didn’t become a nurse.

Then there were the Double Date/Double Feature/Double Wedding books that featured a pair of peppy and cute twins. I also read a couple of Donna Parkers, but I grew out of those and into adult fiction before the series ended. (YA didn’t really exist. You graduated from pap to the adult section.)

And then there was Nancy Drew.

I suspect on a re-read, these would fall somewhere on the merit continuum between Betsy-Tacy and Donna Parker, but I adored them.

What was not to love about Nancy?

She was smart, pretty, well-to-do, and had a roadster and a dead mother. (Sorry moms everywhere, but that’s how the kid fantasies sometimes go.) She was also an only child (sigh) and had a bland but charming boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Plus she had two best friends, her own personal yin and yang: blonde, girlie-girl Bess Marvin and the butch George Fayne. And to top it all off, the Drews had a housekeeper (c.f., dead mother), and Nancy didn’t ever, that I recall, have to do a damned chore.

She didn’t iron, hang out and retrieve laundry, dust mop, vacuum, dry the dishes, burn the burnable trash, run errands, peel potatoes, crack walnuts, or do any of the other myriad chores that we all did as kids.

Of course I wanted to be Nancy Drew!

I remember getting the word that her latestwas in stock at Woolworth’s. If one of us had 50 cents, my sister Kath and I, along with our friends Mary Ann, Susan, and Elaine, would bee-line down to the Webster Square Plaza to buy it.

The Secret of the Old Clock. The Bungalow Mystery. The Witchtree Symbol.

Nancy sure knew how to have an adventure – and solve a mystery.

The mysteries most of us were capable of solving were about the whereabouts of our skate keys, or which of our younger sibs had scribbled in our coloring books.

As for adventures, well, one time when we were cutting through Hixon’s Hollow, a creepy old guy threw burrs at me and my friend Bernadette. And then there was the time that Bernadette and I melted some snow to baptize Tinkerbell, a cute little neighborhood dog – back in the day when both kids and dogs were free-range. We named him James Martin, after the classmate we both had a crush on.

Anyway, a few weeks back, Nancy Drew turned 85. Or at least her series did.

Nancy, I suspect is forever young. (I did read that they aged her up from 16 to 18. Someone, I guess, decided that roadstering around with a moderately butch friend named George was more appropriate for a high school grad, not a student.)

I also read the Hardy Boys, but that was probably to get closer to my one-time boyfriend (at a distance of 3,000 miles and about a decade in age) Tim Considine, who played Frank Hardy in the Disney Hardy Boy Series.

But I always came back to Nancy Drew.

I still like series, and look eagerly anticipate each new, say, Maisie Dobbs mystery.

I’ll read anything by Stewart O’Nan, including his grocery lists, but I especially loved Wish You Were Here and Emily Alone, because they featured the same character. Robertson Davies is not to everyone’s liking, but I loved his Deptford, Salterton, and Cornish Trilogies, which were long and complex, and made for excellent vacation reads.

And then there’s the peerless Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Twelve volumes following the life of Nick Jenkins. (Just added this one to my re-read list.) More recently, I sped through Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series, a harrowing fictionalized account of St. Aubyn’s capital-D –Dysfunctional family life.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew. You helped make me the reader I am today.

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