Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reading. Keene.

The first mysteries I ever read (aside from those written for beginning readers, like The Fourth Floor Twins series) were the Nancy Drew books. I found a whole cache of them while clearing out my parents' basement last week, going through boxes and boxes of books I had forgotten all about. In the end I only managed to come up with two or three boxes to give away; everything else followed me home. Now there are books crammed into six or seven bookcases, and in boxes under the bed, in the closet, and in my storage locker some four floors below my apartment. (At least a third of these hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands of books, are mysteries). As I remember it, my mother had bought me a collection of the first six Nancy Drew books when I was eight or nine, and for the first time in years I have them all together again.

The teenage sleuth is always breathlessly described as slender and attractive and tremendously clever (and also described as blonde, blonde with reddish gold glints, titian blonde, or titian-haired, depending on the writer's whim). Often her best friends, Bess and George (cousins), or other school chums join her on various adventures, along with new friends met while being rescued from a stormy lake or in the course of solving some mystery or other. There were elderly people in need of help, young damsels in distress, and Nancy always came along to save the day (with some help from her friends, of course). There is the faithful housekeeper, Hannah, who always has dinner waiting, and Nancy's handsome, widowed father, the dashing lawyer Carson Drew, who always discusses his current cases with his only daughter over dinner.

The mysteries are all about secrets and hidden treasures, stolen jewels and money or wills made in favor of the more deserving. The villians are smugglers and blackmailers and thieves and kidnappers. Nancy and her father and other friends are always getting captured or kidnapped by the evil-doers; threatening phone calls and anonymous notes abound. A soup├žon of danger adds a thrill to diamonds hidden aboard a sunken cruiser, or a chest of gold hearts lost for decades; Nancy is always getting rewarded with gratitude and jewelry, and a new adventure is always just around the corner.

And then, as Laurie Colwin once said, "Nancy and her chums, wearing their sport frocks, would jump into Nancy's roadster and...stop at a tea room and eat chicken salad and homemade rolls with iced tea." (Don't you know by now that with me it's always about the food?). I don't remember a chicken salad, but I remember a chocolate cake covered in swirls of frosting and decorated with walnuts, dinners of steak and baked potatoes and tossed salad, and chocolate-nut sundaes at the lunchroom of a roadside filling station. Wouldn't a little kidnapping and danger be worth the joys of coming back to a home-cooked dinner with freshly made hot rolls, and pie afterwards?

Colwin, Laurie. Home Cooking. HarperPerennial, 1993. p. 156.

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