This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Books about books

I love to read books about writers or other 'book people' and the works they have produced over the years. It really doesn't matter if these book people lived long enough ago to already be considered a part of history or if they're contemporary, they're interesting to me. But most people don't write books about their experiences until they've done a good bit of living. Likewise, a great deal of contemporary authors are profiled in magazine and newspaper articles, rather than book-long biographies. Consequently, these memoirs and other works are instantly of the historical variety.

And, thus, it is not surprising that Bookends: Two Women, One Enduring Friendship by and about antiquarian book dealers Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, as well as Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, are both imbued with the nostalgic atmosphere of bygone Americana. Bookends is a fast, easy read and tells the a story of two women each of whom loved books, achieved higher education degrees, and never wed in a time when for young females marriage was de rigeur and advanced schooling not so much, really. It is engrossing to read about their excursions to Schrafft's and Stern's Columbia University experiences in the New York of the early twentieth century. Rostenberg inherits a fairly centrally located imposing house in the city from which they base their book business, at least in the earlier years. So there's a lot of opportunity for one's mind to create a playground of old New York landmarks and of book-buying and -selling tales which, presumably, is the kind of thing the reader of such a book would enjoy.

Girl Sleuth by Rehak is even more absorbing a read, especially for a Nancy Drew alum like me. It had me hunting through boxes and boxes of childhood memories and digging out my old Nancy's. Girl Sleuth weaves the history of the day - which happens to be the late nineteenth century up to the present - into the machinations of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, responsible for the creation and production of the Nancy Drew mystery stories. Contrary to what one might think by reading the book's title, it was a man who conceived the idea for the Nancy Drew mysteries. But it was, indeed, one learns from Girl Sleuth, women who fleshed her character out and launched her to eventual superstardom. The books were ghost written with the use of outlines provided by the Syndicate - really, a sort of mass production assembly line kind of way to produce books. Surprising, then, that they held and continue to hold the allure of good stories for young girls.

That said, I'm wondering what today's Nancy Drew's are like since they seem to still be in production. I remember reading an article about them a few years back and it didn't sound all that promising, something like a teeny-bopper romance instead of an elegant mystery, but apparently Nancy's gone through some metamorphoses and, hopefully, they've got her back to form.
Recommendations, therefore, on Girl Sleuth and Bookends for those with a sense of wanderlust that can only be cured by a bit of time travel to bookish places of the past.

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