Girl Sleuth

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that I am in the process of putting away my research materials for The Dragon From Chicago. I said then that it is always harder than I expect and that remains true. My efforts are turning my office into a pit of despair. Putting one thing away requires moving another three.

This is particularly true in the case of the bookshelves. I shelve my books alphabetically by author’s last name. Adding a single book requires shuffling books, sometimes across several shelves, to open up a spot. I have not yet resorted to stacking books vertically, but I suspect the time will come.

There is an upside to all this, familiar to anyone who has packed or unpacked books. As I struggle to move books from the project bookshelf to the permanent bookshelves I handle books I haven’t thought about for a long time. It is impossible to do this without stopping to read a little bit and remember why I enjoyed them, or why they mattered to me. It inevitably slows down the process, but it is a great delight. (I wish I could report that this resulted in a few books moving to the give away pile. No such luck.)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the books I’ve re-discovered with you. First up, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.

I read Girl Sleuth when it first came out in 2005.* When I pulled it off the shelf last week as part of the great shelving project, I was tempted to dive back in and read it again. I may yet.

Rehak knows who her audience is: the generations of women who have read and loved the Nancy Drew books since the first four books were published in 1930. (Not to mention those who watched at least one movie and a television series.) Rehak is a member of that audience. And so am I. The first Nancy Drew book I ever read, my mother’s copy of The Mystery of the Ivory Charm (1936), still holds a place on my bookshelves.** For many of us, Nancy Drew, with her roadster, her gal pals,**** her great clothes, and her unending stream of adventure, was an icon, if not actually a role model.

(I must admit, when I pulled it off the shelves to take this picture, I was tempted to read it again. )

In Girl Sleuth, Rehak tells the story of how the Nancy Drew books moved from a pulp series to a foundational text of American girlhood. It turns out that publisher Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and journalist Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, the original women behind “Carolyn Keene”—the equally fictional author whose name still appears on the covers of the Nancy Drew, almost 100 years and 600+ volumes later—were just as interesting as the titian-haired girl detective. For at least this Nancy Drew fan, Benson turned out to be almost as much of a potential role model as her most famous creation.

Time to put Rehak back on the shelves and see what book catches my attention next.

*Hard to believe it was almost twenty years ago.

**The downstairs shelves that hold fiction, not the ones in my study.

***Far more interesting characters than her stalwart boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. (The fact that I remember his name is evidence of how deeply engrained the books are in my brain.)


*Clears throat nervously*

While you’re here, I have a piece of news: The Dragon from Chicago is now available for pre-order wherever you get your books. If you want a signed copy, you can order it from my neighborhood book store, the Seminary Coop Bookstore at this link:  There is a space at the bottom of the order page to add special instructions. Request a signed copy there, and specify how you want the book to be signed.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.