94 years ago ...

Nancy Drew debuted on April 28, 1930. She'd been conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, son of German immigrants, and fleshed out by a ghostwriter we all knew as Carolyn Keene.  After his early death, his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams kept Nancy Drew alive, by supplying outlines for her mysteries. Carolyn Keene, as mysterious as the mysteries she penned, was Mildred Wirt Benson for the first 23  books. 

But this post isn’t about the authors.  I’m  thinking about the timing. April 28, 1930.  Even though the Great Depression had descended with a thud, it didn't dampen the success of the series.  Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Old Clock was an immediate hit.  Her earliest ghostwriter, Benson, said: “ … (ND) was everything her author—or any girl, in fact—wanted to be and then some.” (page 117, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak).

Because I’ve been obsessed with my mom’s history for the last twenty years, I can’t help but compare my eleven-year-old reading habits to hers. What was Katya, aka my mom, reading in 1930? (Hint: It wasn't Nancy Drew because the Russian translation for Nensi Dru didn’t come out until 1994.)

My mom wasn’t much of a reader.  Kulak daughters like her weren’t visiting libraries or bookstores to find adventure.  At 11 years old she was about to embark on a journey to Siberia. She did have a bit in common with Nancy though.  Both lost their mothers at a young age. Both adored their fathers. Both had a pet dog. 

But while girls on this side of the Atlantic escaped with mystery novels, girls in the Soviet Union were either joining the compulsory Young Pioneers or dealing with homelessness, exile and imprisonment.  No wonder my mom seemed jealous and even discouraged my love of reading. But forbidden fruit is so very sweet. During the sixties, I read and reread Nancy Drew along with a required dose of German poetry and Martin Luther bible verses. While the German translation of Nancy Drew debuted in 1966, I didn't get a copy.

April 28, 2024. Nancy Drew is still on bookshelves. Forever young. Forever single.  Forever driving her blue roadster. Once regarded as a trashy serial, too low-brow to be ‘real’ literature, she finally made it to library shelves in the 1960s and she's been in circulation ever since. 

The power of novels ... such a mystery. 

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