Oh to be Nancy Drew

When I was in about third grade my cousin introduced me to Nancy Drew. I fell in love with her immediately.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Nancy Drew is a teenage sleuth (you have to use the word sleuth to describe her – it’s such a delightful word to say out loud – sleuth.) She and her two best friends, Bess and George (Georgia), and her boyfriend Ned would continuously run across mysteries that needed to be solved. Nancy, being the sharp cookie that she was, would always figure out the truth and save the day.

The name of the author on the cover was and still is Carolyn Keene (new books are still being written today even though the first book was published in 1930). Carolyn Keene is like Santa Claus, she never actually existed but you don’t want children to know this. Instead a long string of adults have pretended to be her, the first being Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, who lived to be 97!

Mildred Wirt Benson (University of Iowa Press)

Nancy Drew has been translated into nearly 30 languages and in some countries is known by a different name (or a variation of her name) for example Alice Roy in France, Kitty Drew in Sweden, and Paula Drew in Finland.

The original company that created Nancy Drew was the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which also published a slew of other children’s series including Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, and the Hardy Boys. Syndicate, hmmmm, sounds shady, doesn’t it? Librarians apparently seemed to think so because for years most of them (us) refused to carry any of the “Syndicate” series (admittedly it wasn’t the company’s name that made them do it but the idea that reading series led to laziness.)

Edward Stratemeyer definitely was the Henry Ford of publishing. He figured out a business model that turned out books quickly and created demand. He had a series of ‘guidelines’ that had to be followed (from Wikipedia).

All Stratemeyer Syndicate books were written under certain guidelines, based on practices Stratemeyer began with his first series, the Rover Boys.

  • All books would be part of a series.
  • To establish more quickly if a series was likely to be successful, the first several volumes would be published at once. These first volumes are often called “breeders”.
  • The books would be written under a pseudonym. This would provide apparent continuity of authorship, even when an author died, and would disguise the fact that series were written by multiple ghostwriters and plot-outliners.
  • The books would look as much like contemporary adult books as possible, with similar bindings and typefaces.
  • The books would be of a predictable length.
  • Chapters and pages should end mid-situation, to increase the reader’s desire to keep reading.
  • Each book would begin with a quick recap of all previous books in that series, in order to promote those books.
  • Books might also end with a preview of the next volume in the series: “Nancy … could not help but wonder when she might encounter as strange a mystery as the recent one. Such a case was to confront her soon, The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes”.
  • The books would be priced at 50 cents, rather than the more common 75 cents, $1.00, or $1.25.
  • Characters should not age or marry. Protagonists of early series such as the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and Ruth Fielding did grow up and marry, but sales dropped afterwards, prompting the Syndicate to make a rule that characters never marry.

Obviously the guidelines worked. For myself, when my cousin told me that she was already on number eighteen (or thereabouts) I knew that I needed to catch up to her. Although it wasn’t really necessary to read the books in order, there was a unwritten rule that you do.

“What number are you on?”

“I’m up to twenty-seven!”

Photo of some “antique” Nancy Drew books taken at an antique shop near Oconomowoc, WI.
Photo taken by my wonderful cousin who introduced me to the teenage sleuth.
Those yellow spines make my heart sing.

When I first started reading there were only fifty-one titles but more were published as I read. I think I gave up somewhere in the sixties. I was able to read an entire book in one afternoon. I relished reading them, especially if it was a rainy or snowy day. I would close the door to my bedroom, nestle in the chair near the window, get all cozy and sit there uninterrupted for several hours and just read.

Afterward I would feel so uplifted and happy and the first thing I would need to do is… clean my entire room. Yep, because the thing I loved most about Nancy Drew is how she was perfect – so neat and put together all the time. She always had on exactly the right outfit for every occasion, she knew how to do everything, she was always prepared for any situation. She was completely perfect. I wanted to be Nancy Drew and if I was going to be Nancy Drew I was going to start with… my room (which I’m sure you can visualize, it looked like the typical bedroom of an preteen.)

The first thing I would do is take every single piece of clothing out of my closet and out of the drawers of my cabinets. I would take everything off of my bookcase and dust, and then put everything back perfectly. I would empty all the drawers of my desk and put that all back. I’d clear OFF the desk and clean off the top. When I was finished my Mom would come in and oooh and aaah and tell me how wonderful it looked and I’d feel so proud. “I’m Nancy Drew,” I would think to myself! I’d lay out my clothes for the next day. I’d brush my teeth and wash my face. I’d climb into a clean bed and I’d sleep like a rock.

That would last about two days.

It didn’t take long for my Mom to figure out that connection between my cleaning my room and reading Nancy Drew. Eventually when she would notice my room looking like a pigsty she’d ask, “do you want to go to the bookstore and get a new Nancy Drew?” Hell, getting me to clean up my room for less than a dollar was totally worth it.

Now jump forty years later and I’m obviously no longer in 3rd grade. I’m living in a two-story colonial where I’ve had a major break-down because I was in the basement doing laundry and couldn’t get up the stairs. Turns out I have a degenerative joint disease and I need both my knees replaced. But here’s the rub – in order to have the surgery I have to lose fifty pounds but you try losing fifty pounds when you can barely walk. Yeah.

But I did it. I pretty much turned my life around. I moved from the two-story colonial into a ranch (my Golden Girls dream house) and I went onto a very strict (non-maintainable diet) where I starved myself for about 7 or 8 months and lost those damned fifty pounds. I had both knees replaced in a six month time period. Thank god!

When I moved from the two-story house to the ranch I decided not to take shortcuts like I had done in the past. This time I was going to do it right. This time I was not going to just pack everything up and pile up a bunch of boxes full of things I didn’t use in my basement. I hired an organizer to help me, because basically I had over twenty years of stuff jammed into my house.

We took TWENTY-SEVEN carloads to Goodwill and I’m fairly certain I filled up an entire Waste Management sanitation truck. It felt so good to purge my life of all of my accumulated belongings, things that I didn’t need or want anymore.

Going through the boxes in the bases was a riot. I found my Fran Drescher The Nanny Doll that talked and a miniature pair of Fruit-of-the-Looms and this 80s cardigan….

Yes, I actually wore this.

I also found many things that I actually kept. Things that were my Mom’s or that actually would be useful.

When were were about half finished I looked up at my organizer and at 51 years of age I said to her, “I’m so Nancy Drew!” Because I still want to be Nancy. Her response was “huh?”

Of course she knew who Nancy Drew was but she never heard the name used as an adjective before. I explained it in my usual long-winded way. From that point forward we would say our goal was to be Nancy Drew.

For me it still is, it always will be. To achieve complete Nancy Drew-ness is equivalent to a Buddhist reaching nirvana. Every time I clean up my work space, or wash all the blankets and quilts on my bed and remake my bed so it’s nice & clean, or delete mail from my inbox, or go through the stack of real mail that I’ve let accumulate and toss all the stuff I don’t need into recycling (and take care of all the rest of it right away), or clear off a counter or garage that I’ve let get cluttered, every time I do all these things it clears out my head and helps me feel more myself. I find that I remember things more easily – less struggling to find words, less likely to be going down the wrong row of a parking lot, able to recall the names of all the actors who played on particular episodes of ‘Murder, She Wrote.’ Faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… Yep, all of these things, just because I cleaned up my room.

And actually, there is a bit of science behind this. Too much stuff can be distracting and can create stress, and you may not even realize it.

I have major sleep issues. I have trouble getting to sleep because I obsess about things – mostly about what I did wrong that day and what I have to do the next day or week. I also am a worrier. I can worry about everything and anything. What I discovered is that I sleep MUCH better on nights after I’ve done some major ‘Nancy Drew-ing’ of some sort. Did the laundry for the week and prepped for the next day – sleep better. Made a bunch of meals for the week and put them in the freezer – sleep better. Cleared out a bunch of mail (both electronic & snail) – sleep better. Checked off several important things from my endless to do list – sleep better.

And sleep of course, has a tremendous impact on a person’s health. I’m going to write an entire blog post on this so I won’t go into depth on that here.

The question is, why did it take me so long to figure this out? I have no answer to give. All I know is that at least I figured it out before it was too late.

So, I’ll stop because I need to get back to Nancy Drew-ing!

Oh, and one last thing, for any of you who are super Nancy Drew fans like I am, you may want to check out the new Nancy Drew show on the CW but be prepared – this Nancy is nothing like the one you have grown to love. This Nancy is still smart as a whip but she’s a bit selfish, she and her dad are not on good terms (which is really weird,) and she and Nick (Ned Nickerson goes by Nick in this modern version, I think because Ned would be considered too dorky?) are having sex – GASP! Nancy Drew doesn’t have pre-marital sex!

Also, the ghosts are REAL. Having said that – the show is a typical CW show, sort of like Nancy Drew mixed with X-Files. Which is, I suppose, why I kind of like it. That with the Nancy Drew references are keeping my attention. See what you think.

Nancy Drew — “Pilot” — Image Number: NCD101c_0397r.jpg —
Pictured: Kennedy McMann as Nancy — Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

3 thoughts on “Oh to be Nancy Drew

  1. This is a great post – thanks for sharing! I never got into Nancy Drew, but I do understand the feeling of wanting to Nancy Drew my life (I always work better when my desk is clear).

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