This started out to be a confession of my obsessive reading of all the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novels over Christmas, but it made me think about my lifetime passion for reading mysteries and the kind of influence they have had. A few years ago a friend was taking a class about Nancy Drew (really!). She asked me if I had read Nancy Drew when I was young – she had not – and could I write something about that for her to share in her class. Here is that piece:
I was probably first drawn to these books because my name is Nancy. I don’t precisely remember when I started reading them, but I would guess I was 7 or 8. I think they were probably my first mystery books. I had begun reading at 3 and read everything I could get my hands on.
I lived in a neighborhood with a lot of girls about the same age and we did lots of fun and creative things together all the time. We also shared our books, and I may have first heard of Nancy Drew from my friend Marilyn who was a grade ahead of me in school and often told me about new things she had learned. My parents were also avid readers who took me to the library all the time, and they may have given me the first book for a birthday or Christmas gift. My friends and I read all the Nancy Drew books that were available, and we were always excited when a new one came out. It became very important to me to read them in order of publication, a habit that has stayed with me for all my reading, especially of mystery fiction.
The characters, especially the three girls, were fascinating and important to us as young girls. We were already strong, independent girls, and these books simply made sense to us. I think having these young women as models encouraged us in school and in our other interests. We learned from these books what we already seemed to know in our own lives, that women could be strong and intelligent, leaders and creative thinkers, and have lasting friendships. Our imaginative play included acting out these stories, and I wasn’t always Nancy! We didn’t always follow the plot lines, but often developed our own stories.
I know that these books certainly sparked my lifetime passion for mystery fiction, especially with strong, independent women as central characters. As I write this, I know there is some link here between Nancy Drew and Dorothy L. Sayers, especially as my favorites Sayers novels are the Harriet Vane stories. The other connection there is the time. Both the Nancy Drew novels and the Dorothy L. Sayers books were mainly written in the 1930’s, although the Nancy Drew books went on long after that. I think the decades between the World Wars are fascinating for the history of women, and I think that both these authors, from very different perspectives and very different audiences, reflect the many changes happening in western society in that time. I know that for myself and my childhood friends, meeting Nancy, George, and Bess encouraged our own growth and development through the wonderful and mysterious process of reading.
As I think of the mysteries to which I am drawn these days – books about women clergy – I wonder if we all continue to find connection in stories that mirror our own lives in some way. I know that the Nancy Drew books were important entries for me into the world of mystery fiction and into the real life world of 20th-21st century women.
I believe I read my favorite – The Hidden Staircase – something like 13 times, revealing another life-long pattern of reading favorites over and over again! Who else read Nancy Drew, and what do you think?
I’ll get to Louis Penny tomorrow!