Tuesday, October 21, 2003

There's something about wandering around in an antihistamine haze that takes me back to middle school. I've been feeling very nostalgic lately, and wishing I could relive my childhood. A lot of that is probably because I really liked getting to stay home on sick days or vacations, because I really didn't have to worry about anything on those days. Now, if I stay home sick, I have to catch up on homework and find someone to cover my classes for me, which is often more trouble that just going and teaching while feeling miserable.

In the past week, though, I've found myself watching Jeopardy in the evenings because it is so strongly reminiscent of spending time at my grandparents' house when they still lived in Raleigh, or visiting them in Florida. I finished one book that I had been reading, and when deciding on a new one, I found myself in the mood to read the fifth Harry Potter book that my mom saved for me while I was in Japan. I read it in far less time than the sci-fi book about half its length that I had read previously. When I finished Harry Potter, I immediately picked up the vintage Carolyn Keene Dana Girls mystery that I found this summer in Virginia.

One summer during my middle school years, my brother and I spent almost the whole time at our grandparents' house. I thought it was great. They would take me to the library every week, and I would check out about 10 books at a time. I spent the whole summer reading all of the original Nancy Drew mysteries, in backwards order, from #114, I believe. I was solving all the mysteries before Nancy after reading about 5 of the books in a row, but that was okay. I was still having fun, and with such an extensive series, I didn't have to worry about running out of books to read before the summer was over.

My other grandmother was an elementary school librarian, and both of my grandmothers are bibliophiles, (gee, I wonder where I got it from?), so they saved all their children's books long after their children grew up. As the grandchild who actually lived in the same city, I spent the most time at their houses, so I got to pilfer from the bookshelves. Now that I've moved into my own apartment with ample bookshelving, I can finally see all my books in one place, and I realize that I have nearly an entire shelf of vintage children's mysteries from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

I started with the modernized version of the Bobbsey Twins, but then discovered the original series, with its more lengthy and interesting volumes, in Grandma Ritchie's basement. I stole them, one by one, from her shelves and combined them with the ones my mother had kept at home. Then I discovered the wonderful tomboy Trixie Belden, who lived in idyllic 1950s-era sunny summer days, went swimming in ponds, found hidden diamonds in vine-covered clubhouses, and rode horses. Alas, the library's collection of Trixie Belden was not as complete as Nancy Drew, even though she was the more interesting character, as were her friends and relatives. I didn't bother to pilfer the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys from my grandmothers because they were so common and easy to find.

But then I found a wonder. A delight. A rare gem. And it literally had my name on it. The Dana Girls were the lesser known Carolyn Keene creation, from the same era as Nancy Drew, but again, in my opinion more interesting. They were two orphaned sisters who lived with their maiden aunt and unmarried uncle, who was a boat captain. Usually, though, they were at the all-girls boarding school, Starhurst, which seemed to me to be exactly that place where girls in black and white movies went to school, where the sisters had a two room suite, one room of which was a sitting room, and where all the girls still wore full skirts and ironed blouses. I guess I never outgrew my childhood romanticism of that era in American history.

I found 3 Dana Girls mysteries at Grandma Ritchie's house, which makes sense since she had two daughters to collect books, whereas my Grandma Watson's shelves only turned up one, from my aunt Janice. And then I hit a dead end. The library had never heard of the series. Bookstores certainly didn't carry them. I had well and truly gone through all the books at my grandparents'. I kept an eye out at yard sales, but it was rare to find books that old. I mostly gave up on finding any more.

But then this summer, while in Luray for the family reunion, I found another one in the rare bookstore. It has rekindled my acquisitional desires. Now that I live in the internet age, I ran a Google search and found that I can have them all, I can! At least, I can if I have the money. Some of them are expensive. I found one first edition for more than $160. Most of them, though are under $7. And there are only about 25 in the series. I think I've found my Christmas gift suggestions for the next several years.

Mmmmm, books.

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