Archive | August 2011

Nancy Drew remix

Remix? Well, not really, unless you count the fact that the last time I read a Nancy Drew I was in grade school decades ago. So, same old Nancy Drew, new me mixing into the reading equation.

The last ND I ever bought – I remember being in the store, leaning down to the shelf it was on, and wondering if I’d ever actually read it since my ND interest was waning and I was getting older – was about 25 years ago, perhaps longer. I had always wanted to read this specific title, The Secret of the Wooden Lady. The cover had a, well, wooden lady rising out of Boston Harbor and I thought it was nice and spooky and interesting. And, for some reason, I never read it. So peculiar. Nowadays if I want to read something, I read it. What kind of goose was I that during the many times I visited Lauriat’s and B. Dalton Bookseller – biding time happily while my sister helped in fashion shows every couple weeks at another store in the mall – and bought other Nancy’s I never ran right to that one? What was I waiting for? I’d like to know the logic (or whatever) there.

So, the other night I started it before falling asleep, warily feeling that this might be a case when the luster has left a children’s book. Some books do not translate well to adulthood. But, though, I have only read the first chapter (and, by the way, I’m using an old Garfield bookmark I would possibly have used then; I still have it) the experience was completely pleasant and, amazingly, interesting, too. It was a comforting read, and I was reminded unexpectedly of how I would, years earlier, read a Nancy Drew in bed. I remembered my old bed, my habit of placing the book down on the ridge of my sister’s bed close to mine when I got sleepy, the light of the lamp next to my bed, the glow of the light and the colors of my room in the incandescent glow. I remembered old nightgowns even, our big old windows and heavy curtains. I thought about the way I had written in large childlike print my name across the back of my bookmark. Like I said, I still have my old bookmarks so that memory is something I can always revisit.

Needless to say, it was a very pleasant experience. Nancy is still swimming in her pool (I’d forgotten about that; Nancy’s house had different features depending on the book – one of the perils of multiple ghost writers?) and Hannah Gruen is still cooking dinner. Mr. Drew is still offering his daughter trips around the world like they’re sticks of gum, and Nancy is still utterly polite.

Those were the days…

I understand that they are still producing Nancy Drews. I somehow feel that a Nancy who uses a cellphone and search engines – as surely a publisher would believe she must to attract today’s audience – would have a difficult time being my Nancy Drew. Yours, too, maybe? I read several years ago in an article that her character thinks, in one the then-contemporary modern editions, that she like to run her fingers through Ned Nickerson’s hair. The article implied not only a change in style, but a change in tone, which didn’t sit well with me who as a child used to enjoy hearing Nancy say things like I shall don my frock. Totally old-fashioned decorum. I suppose Nancy has to grow, I did and so do the kids who read her now. But, I hope that there’s some solid ode to her past that’s obvious in the books today as she…oh, I don’t know… struggles to decide if Ned should sleep over, or more?

I have no idea what’s happening now. Perhps, one day I’ll do a study. Perhaps, I won’t wait a couple of decades until I do.

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Anya Seton

I read three Anya Seton novels this summer: Green Darkness, Smouldering Fires, Dragonwyck.

I believe I enjoyed them in that order, though I don’t like to rate things; it doesn’t do them justice.

What struck me was how dramatic, theatrical really, she is. First of all, look at the titles. They promise passion, don’t they? You know when you’re watching a sitcom and there’s a character addicted to a particular (fictional) writer’s books? The books tend to have uber-gothicky names and the author’s name itself conjures up thoughts of a glamorous writer you might find in glosssy magazine profiles. To me, that’s kind of what Anya Seton’s like.

I’ve always seen those shows and known that if I were to read that sitcom character’s favorite writer, I would not particularly care for her work. It’s the paradox of wanting to like something, but not liking it anyway. In the paraphrased words of my sister as she looks admiringly at my glass of iced coffee, “I want to like it. Really. I’ve tried. I just don’t!”

With Seton, you do. At least, I did. So she’s a great find. An interesting woman, too, I found out from an article in her hometown’s historical society’s journal. She was born wealthy, married a guy named Hamilton, divorced him, married another guy named Hamilton (how does thathappen?), started writing at some point in adulthood, researched like mad, won acclaim, had a movie of her book made starring Vincent Price, had children and, it seems, only wrote 12 books.

So, now, I’ve read one quarter of her books in one summer. I should say that Green Darkness is about 589 pages long. If you’re looking for a long mysterious rambling story of love and, yes, intrigue, you may want to consider it. A woman’s buried memories of her previous life threaten to kill her, and her husband has similar problems, during a house party in the English countryside that assembles a cast of characters who don’t realize it, but have met before during the 1500s.

Smouldering Fires takes place in Connecticut and deals with the displacement of Arcadians from Nova Scotia in the 1800s as a young girl struggles with her own distant past.

Dragonwyck, though enjoyable, was perhaps the least sophisticated in its writing. Still, it delivered an interesting story about a manor/tenant system that existed in the 1800s in New York State. Who knew? I’ll just say that the anti-hero in this made for a good casting choice in Vincent Price in the 40s film.