Tag Archives: reading

Reading – Childhood Favorites

“Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.” — Arnold Lobel

Early Likes

Some of my earliest memories include getting my first library card. Our local branch, in a strip mall, looked like a cute little shop. At four, I didn’t understand the concept of borrowing books. I just knew I’d found a lot of fun and colorful stories. By the time we left the parking lot, I asked for more books because I’d already finished the stack we’d just gotten. You might say I read early and often.

Elementary Choices

While I took home “Dick and Jane” readers as homework, I wanted “Gentle Ben” for fun. Many books in my school library were set in the 1950s so I talked more like my parents generation than my own. This was before “Happy Days” nostalgia hit so everyone thought I was pretty strange.

Favored in Junior High

My school librarian recommended the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries. Set in the 1950s, the stories followed cool teenage detectives. I loved Nancy’s relationships with her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, and good friends, Bess and George. Best of all, Nancy’s titian hair (a shade of red), sounded very close to my own strawberry-blonde. Frank and Joe Hardy ran around without much adult supervision aside from brief interactions with their father, Fenton, or their Aunt Gertrude. The final chapters of each book almost always ended in mortal peril so I kept turning pages until the heroes or heroine escaped. My favorites in these series would have been “The Phantom of Pine Hill” (Nancy Drew) and “While the Clock Ticked” (The Hardy Boys).

High School Treasures

My reading became even more eclectic as I progressed through public school. One series by Rosamond du Jardin, also set in the 1950s of course, followed the exploits of twin sisters Pam and Penny Howard. The stories progressed from “Double Date” to “Double Wedding” with all kinds of interesting tales in between. While working through the Howard Twins series, I also continued reading any new Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries that came my way.

Full-Circle Favorites

All of the books I’ve mentioned here bring back wonderful memories of childhood days (and nights) spent curled up with a good book. Having my own children, and now grandchildren, have taken me back to the early days of reading Dr. Seuss or other easy readers. We’ve also shared a lot of evenings with the Harry Potter over the past few years.

My adult reading continues to be pretty eclectic; everything from the latest romances to classic sci-fi, biographies/autobiographies, and historical fiction. While I enjoy reading just as much as ever, nothing these days brings me quite the same feeling as curling up with one of my favorite childhood reads.

What were your childhood favorites? Did anything mentioned here bring back fond memories for you?

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew Mysteries
One of my favorites.

A librarian first introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries back when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. Once I’d caught up to that series, I started in on the Hardy Boys. This was in the days when the books were released as hardcovers and the stories continued to be set in the 1950s and 1960s so they were full of women wearing awesome dresses and getting their hair done, the men sometimes wearing suits and ties, and them all driving around in what I imagined to be cool classic cars.

Nancy Drew, an eighteen-year-old from River Heights, lived with her father Carson and their housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s mother died when she was a young child and she’d grown up with her lawyer father and the motherly Hannah. I loved the fact that Nancy was able to go out and solve mysteries with her best friends, tomboy George Fayne and the more ladylike Bess Marvin, as well as her long-time boyfriend Ned NIckerson. Though I always felt I resembled Bess in stature (she’s often described as being a bit overweight), I loved that my hair color seemed to be close to Nancy’s, which is called ‘Titian’ (or strawberry blonde) in the books. The Nancy Drew series gave me my first glimpse into a world where kids weren’t always hanging around with their parents; the characters were young adults able to go out into the world on their own to explore and experience exciting adventures, which I wanted to do in the worst way. As I entered my pre-teen and early teen years, I also enjoyed the romantic element of Nancy and Ned as a couple and dreamed of finding my own version of Ned someday. The books also introduced me to an expanded vocabulary, such as the word ‘stentorian’ (uncommonly loud) from The Phantom of Pine Hill. 

Another favorite of mine.
Another favorite of mine.

The Hardy Boys, who lived in Bayport with their father Fenton, their mother Laura (who I don’t remember), and their Aunt Gertrude also went out in the world and got into trouble without much in the way of adult supervision. Like Nancy Drew, they often got in over their heads while trying to solve mysteries, and were sometimes in life-threatening situations. I was less interested in the romantic exploits of the brothers than I’d been with Nancy and Ned and tended to be jealous of any female who showed an interest in younger brother, Joe, a fact which carried over when I started watching the television version in the 1970s and developed a huge crush on Shaun Cassidy.

Both series of books were well-written and I always looked forward to either checking out or buying the most recent release. The stories held my attention and I got into trouble on many an occasion for reading past my bedtime and being too tired at school the following day. I admired authors Keene and Dixon and had a secret desire to write both experience and write about exciting adventures the way they did.

I admired the authors until the day I learned they were nothing more than a couple pseudonyms assigned to ghostwriters hired by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which is a post for another time). Upon first learning this news, I felt a strong disappointment in both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Mysteries, but I got over that when I revisited the books as an adult. When I went back and re-read them again, I found my nostalgia for what those books had meant to me cancelled out the sense of betrayal I’d felt at learning the truth about the authors. From Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys I learned the importance of the cliffhanger chapter ending and how I couldn’t put the book down until I’d learned what happened next. I also learned not to be afraid to use words that might be unfamiliar to some readers because that can help expand someone’s language by making them curious enough to look up the term. Most of all, I learned to love reading the continued adventures of a beloved and familiar character. All these things are important to the creation of a story that will be so loved by fans that they will be re-read over and over and over again.

 

Intention vs. Interpretation

One of the greatest parts of being a writer is the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas to readers. The problem is the writer and reader have differing outlooks on life; they often don’t have shared experiences upon which to draw that will help the reader make the connection the writer hopes. Most times, the reader has never met the writer in person and only knows them through their online and/or professional persona. What the writer intends to convey isn’t always what the reader interprets since they have little to no shared background.

This never occurred to me when I started my writing journey oh-so-many years ago now. At that time, my focus was on getting my stories onto the page in such a way as to tempt a publisher to take a chance on me. The stories I found the most success with were ones based upon my favorite television show at the time because the characters, situations, and back-story were all well-established. Whoever read the stories already knew and loved the characters so they would be interested in picking up the tie-in novelizations in order to explore new adventures with their beloved friends.

I’m no longer writing what I now realize was a form of subsidized fan-fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I still enjoy reading fan fiction and tie-in novels, but now I’m trying to embark on my own path as a writer). Many people enjoy exploring all the ‘what ifs’ of the worlds they know and love and others enjoying reading the thought processes of people who share some background, but different overall life experiences. The differences in background become a means of exploring a shared love through new eyes.

In the case of original fiction, the well-known and well-loved characters don’t yet exist. There are no established backstories or situations for the reader to draw upon. Everything is new territory and potential readers look for stories in their favored genre that look as though they may be appealing. The writer then has to successfully draw characters and build a world for the reader to love. Creating the relationship between the reader and the characters can take time and patience and the reader has so many options from which to choose these days that they can and will give up if the story takes too long to catch their interest.

The writer must know and love their characters very well and be able to express that so the potential reader’s interest is captured right away. The writer must know the back-story in such detail that they can indicate what has happened while putting the current story into play. Choosing the right words, phrases, and overall tone is vital to catching reader interest. These facts are all either well-known or instinctive to the successful writer. Some writers, like myself, may need a little more time to wrap their mind around the concept of successful world- and character-building.

These are thoughts I’m keeping in mind as I work to create enjoyable characters and stories in the future. I’ve got to make sure my intention is clear enough for the reader to be able to interpret what I’m trying to say in such a way that they enjoy my stories and characters as much as I do.

And now…back to work!