Light My Fire

Nancy Drew is eighty-seven, can you believe it?

secret of red gate farm

I first discovered Nancy Drew when I was in the fourth grade, at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago. I was already reading every mystery I could get my hands on, either through the school library, the public library, or what my parents would let me order through the Scholastic Book Club, but I didn’t discover Nancy Drew–or the other series for kids–until the fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Pirog, had a big wooden table in the back of the room with discarded books from her own kids spread out on it. One day I noticed the above book, and decided to take it home and read it. I loved it! Nancy and her pals Bess and George helped some poor girl and her grandmother, about to lose Red Gate Farm to the mortgage, while also unmasking a ring of counterfeiters. There were two other volumes back on the table–The Mystery at Lilac Inn and The Haunted Showboat–and I was hooked. At the Woolworth’s where I usually spent my allowance, I acquired The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery. (On the book table was also a Dana Girls mystery, The Secret of the Old Well, but we’re going to focus on Nancy Drew for now.)

I became obsessed with reading and collecting the entire series. I still collect them, of course, even if my collection is in storage because I don’t have the room to display them in the Lost Apartment. My obsession (I guess this was probably the first example of my OCD-lite coming to light) was driven even further by my parents’ forbidding me to read them; you see, I was a boy and these were books for girls. I started collecting and reading the boys’ series, and buying Nancy Drew, and the other series for girls, on the sly; I would get, say, five Hardy Boys books and slip two Nancy Drews into the stack, and then would bury the Nancy Drews at the bottom of the book bag beneath the Hardy Boys, and pull out one of the Hardy Boys to read in the car on the way home. (I was undoubtedly not fooling my mother, who had to notice that the yellow-spined Nancy Drew collection was mysteriously growing, albeit at a slower pace than the Hardy Boys.)

nancy drew leaning chimney

This was also an early example of my stubbornness, and the streak of “if you want me to not do something, the worst thing you can do is tell me so.”

Hard to believe something as innocuous as Nancy Drew mysteries could be considered contraband, isn’t it? My sister helped out sometimes, too, when she felt like it, by buying them for me. They couldn’t very well tell her she couldn’t have them.

Ghostwriting a Nancy Drew mystery as Carolyn Keene is on my bucket-list, I might add.

While I can’t credit Nancy Drew for my lifelong love of mysteries and my desire to become a mystery writer, she was a big assist, and my first introduction to mystery series. I read almost all of the Grosset & Dunlap series (Nancy, the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, Biff Brewster, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr), as well as the Trixie Belden books and The Three Investigators (which was probably my favorite, along with Ken Holt), and have kept all of my copies all these years. In my early twenties I started finishing the sets, haunting used bookstores for used copies, since many of the off-brand series were no longer in print. After Hurricane Katrina I discovered eBay, and started finishing the sets. Once I had all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series completed, I went back and started recollecting the series–there were  original texts and revised texts, and my completed sets were combinations of the two. Now I want a complete set of revised texts and one of original texts. I also belong to collectors’ groups on Facebook, and there’s a store in Savannah, Books by the Bay, that specializes in the kids’ series that I am DYING to visit (and will undoubtedly drop a ton of cash at if I ever get there).

So, happy birthday, Nancy. Thanks for all the great memories!

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