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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dear Old Friends

Even before I could read, I have loved reading. I remember looking at picture books, listening to Mom help my brother with reading; he was sick for much of First Grade and got far behind the other students, so truly struggled with the foundation of reading and writing. I wasn't invited into those lessons because I was too little, and so I would ask Mom to read me books, and in so doing, would try to memorize them so I could perhaps make the connection between what I was hearing and the figures on the page.

I strongly recall picking up a book I was CERTAIN I remembered, and, bringing it to Mom and Dad, announced that I had learned to read and I was going to PROVE it!

Unfortunately, when I opened the book, to my chagrin, I could not understand those characters and was forced to make up a story which turned out to be very lame; after all, since I couldn't read, I didn't actually know what the book was about. Mom and Dad laughed, said that was cute, and left me to look at pictures.

Ultimately, learning to read was never a struggle with me...when it was finally time, I took to it like a fish to water. My particular problem was that I would pick up books, fall in love with them, and set that particular book as a "gold standard". I would have books read to me, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and because I wasn't quick enough on Library days to get that particular book, and I wasn't at the top of the elementary grade "A-list", to get the library's only copy of any given Little House book, I was forced to peruse the shelves, looking for something I actually wanted to read.

We had the most freedom in Fourth Grade, and it was that teacher who, frustrated with me always being the last to choose a book, quickly but carefully grabbed one for me and forced it into my hand. "Go check out. You're reading THIS."

I would go to the Librarian, pouting because it wasn't what I wanted to read. But because of that vigilant teacher, I read books that taught me something MORE, for the popular books with the other girls, the ones I could never obtain, were the ones our teacher had already read to us as a class. She didn't want me to stick with the status quo, but rather, to branch out to many genres and most importantly, discover new territory. She didn't object to students reading on their own the books she read us in class, but didn't want us to remain there; she wanted to use books to inspire us, to discover new adventures, new worlds, and of course, improve our reading and grammar because we WANTED to read.

She was successful but I must confess that my propensity to be loyal to favorite authors has never died, and even as an adult, I return to the literature of my youth.

The Best Friends a Girl Could Have

My family moved to Minnesota when I was in Fifth Grade, and sometime that year or perhaps between Fifth and Sixth Grade, I came home one cloudy, humid, rainy day to find a few large boxes on the floor of my room, all containing musty-smelling hardcover books.

"Where did these come from?"  I demanded.

"Your Aunt Laurie. She read all of them and thought you would enjoy them. Take care of them; she wants them back when you're done reading."

One by one, I pulled the books out. The Bobbsey Twins, one about Barbie and the Florida Keys, and about thirty books about a girl named "Trixie Belden".  A couple Nancy Drew.

I didn't want to read ANY of them, but at the time, I wasn't reading anything else, the weather prevented other activities so I began with the "single"  books, putting off the lame-looking "Trixie Belden" series, certain I'd hate them.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the first few books I read, and began to see my aunt in a new light. Maybe she DID know what she was talking about in recommending these books. Even though I wasn't enthused about the Trixie books, I realized I should at least read one of them; that way I could give those boxes back to my aunt in good conscience, even if I didn't like them.

Much to my surprise, when I opened the cover of the first book, Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, I found I couldn't put it down. One by one, I absorbed each book voraciously, and if a one was missing in the sequence, I'd go to the public library with the desperation of an addict.  Over one summer, I was at the library every other day, looking for the next book and placing orders for interlibrary loans.

Because of my enthusiasm and "frequent customer" appearances, I got to know the Librarians, especially one named "Laurie" (not my aunt, her agreeable name merely a coincidence).

Over time, I finally exhausted both my aunt's books and the library's resources, even through interlibrary loans. Some of the books simply weren't available anywhere, although we continued to look. Some were being reprinted and I ended up receiving a couple of the later books as gifts or by purchasing them myself.

I read and re-read my favorites of the series, but realized, as my Fourth Grade teacher had taught me, that I couldn't stagnate. Laurie, the Librarian, seeing my consternation at running out of my beloved Trixie books, strongly recommended Nancy Drew, and so I moved on to that series, too, and before long, was coming to the reference desk to ask her to place more orders for interlibrary loans.


 When I left for college, I think,  I had to finally release my aunt's books back to her, so I'd carefully packed those old friends away while suppressing the tears. Over the years I'd read and re-read those books I had initially not wanted...and like so much of life, learned that what we think we'll hate is often what others realize is just perfect for us.

I also knew that one has to move on to greater things, and as much as my old friends Trixie, Mart, Brian, and Bobby Belden, Honey Wheeler, Jim Frayne, Dan Mangan, Di Lynch, Regan, Miss Trask, Tom Delaney, Nancy Drew, Midge....had become nearly "real" to me, one must always grow up. Instinctively I'd understood that the series had ended because the characters had to grow up, too, and life doesn't ever remain the same...not even in storybooks.

Still, I didn't go to college untouched by these mere "childhood" books, even though I didn't realize until recently how much they have impacted my life.

Good Literature does not point to itself...but to even GREATER Literature

Recently I went to the public library and admittedly, somewhat abashedly, entered the "Children's" section of the huge hub, and went through the fiction stacks. Although I found Nancy Drew, and knew from a previous computer search that this library DEFINITELY had SOME of the Trixie Belden books, I couldn't find a single one. I looked under both author names under which the 39 books in the series had been penned. Nothing.

Shamefacedly I approached the librarians and confessed I could not find my beloved Trixie Belden, and they helped me locate it on the shelves - under Title, not author, simply because of the duality of authorship.

For the last week or so, I have been DEVOURING these books and realize how much they contributed to my own formation in my teenage years.

Although they were written in the '40's and '50's, and use archaic words such as "dungarees" instead of "jeans", and to this day, I still have no idea what a "sharkskin suit" is or why it is considered to be "cool" for a hot day, I took to heart the moral lessons within the pages. Now that I am re-reading as an adult, I can see the values instilled in the characters, but still the personalities, temperaments, and utter teenage stupidity that made the books so appealing.

It is because of Trixie Belden that  in my Jr. High years I took it upon myself to read Edgar Allen Poe, the works of Shakespeare, and inquire about other classic literature - simply so that I would be able to understand the references the characters made. In fact, because of these books, I questioned why I had never had to study these greats, and why we didn't touch them in English classes or other electives until High School?

Through Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, I became interested in the world around me, not just my immediate locale, but the larger world, and suddenly, History became important, and other cultures became even MORE interesting than they had been before.

It didn't stop there, though. I can't help but notice the words being used and how cleverly the authors of the series clearly sought to elevate their readers to the next level. Julia Cambell, "Caroline Kennedy" (pseudonym for several authors), and Katherine Keene (Nancy Drew author) did not talk down to their young audience but sought to increase their vocabulary. Perhaps they did this unconsciously, for it does not read as "gimmicky" but like books written by readers for readers out of respect for the intelligence of readers everywhere.

I can't help but recognize the influence of these authors upon my own writing, both in fiction and that which I use on my blog, and I wonder sometimes if I am channeling Mart Belden - and if I'm not, I wonder if perhaps he could have stepped in to become my muse on occasion, especially when having to compose academic treatises. (Only Trixie Belden fans will understand this reference).

Dear Old Friends

For years I have been reading some pretty hard-core stuff:  between real-life autobiographies to deep Theology and some Fiction, it has been Flannery O'Connor, some CS Lewis, murder mysteries, and well...some serious adult content consistent with my history and training in Criminal Justice. Because I enjoy "BONES", the TV show, I have read Kathy Reichs, the series upon which the production is based, and even though it interests me scientifically, it still makes me occasionally scream and want to write to Ms. Reichs about what she's getting wrong about Catholic theology. So often, when I read even FICTION these days, it feels like work, because as a theologian now, I can't help but take what I know and interpret everything through that particular lens.

 [Remind me to write to Dr.. Reichs and offer my services as a specifically Catholic theological consult. She's made some really embarrassing errors with regard to Catholicism both in the books and on the show - or her current "theologian" on her payroll has, anyway. It makes her look like an idiot and she has a HUGE Catholic following to whom she is doing a great injustice and has been for a long time. *sigh* ]

Because life has been so burdensome of late, I realized I needed something lighter, and so I turned to my old friends. I found that it's been so long I have forgotten the plots of these "juvenile" mysteries, and even though the core of the story has remained, I can still re-read these books as if for the first time, introduced all over again, entertained all over again, reminded all over again.

I love turning these precious pages, getting lost in the stories in a way I could never really  be lost in theology, for both forms utilize the intellect in different ways. I realize that I have to get back in touch with my own roots, my own motivations, the very basic love of literature at the simplest level, engaging my imagination so that I can once again gallop along the bridal paths (an experience I've actually finally had in real life), once again thwart the bad guys (another experience I've had in real life), once again enjoying the camaraderie of great friendships in good times and in bad (an experience that is ongoing as long as the sun rises and sets.).

Ah, my dear friend Trixie, how much you taught me about life, about literature, about selflessness, about manners, about goodness, about adventure, about the very mystery of life. How much I would like to be like you, even now...but still am grateful for many of my adventures in real life were inspired by your fictional ones.

Thank you.

Now, my readers, please excuse me...I have books to read and many old friends with whom I have been longing to be reacquainted.

Consider this an invitation to meet them, too:

Trixie Belden

Nancy Drew (I read only the original series and always saw the later "files" and such as bastardizations of what was originally a good story and good character gone to agenda.)


Beth Lemer said...

Amen girl! Books rock!

Caroline said...

Love books! Won't live long enough to read all the ones I love. +

3puddytats said...

I too read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys during Jr High..

Nowadays nearly all of my reading is either continuing education stuff, equine studies, Bible class and Carmelite studies...sadly not a lot of time for recreational reading. Recently I've read a couple of the Steve Berry novels--those also are hard to put down :)

I LUV my public library, plus I also have access to my university library. Interlibrary loans re a godsend, especially since I cando my request on line and they will deliver to my house or have me pickup, my choice.


Adoro said...

Wondering ~ INDEED!

Caroline ~ That's the problem, isn't it?

Sara ~ I haven't read Hardy Boys, but I do recall the "Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries" and that I didn't like them as a child...probably because I saw them when I was too young. It's because of that I delayed reading Nancy Drew and NEVER ventured into the Hardy Boys.

I spent 3+ years reading formal theology for my Masters, spent the few years prior to that reading apologetics and other things, and find now that I work in a Church, that when I come home, I want nothing to do with Catholicism at all. (Um,other than living it...not like I become a random dissident when I come home..!~)

So...I'm reading the books of my original college interest (Kathy Reichs - really do love her stuff) and for need of innocence, Trixie Belden. And you know...I STILL identify with her! Gosh, if I was a Mom, I'd want a daughter just like her!


I'm surrounded by awesome theological tomes, several Bibles proper to study....and I'm reading Juvenile Literature I wish I could wake up and live. And actually...the two are not opposed philosophically, only realistically/ concretely.

Now when I read theology, I'm getting PAID for it, because I read stuff for work, but honestly....I hate it now. I don't want to be paid to learn about God and how to present Him to others.

I want to do that for free because I love God and want to share what I know. Instead of that, I am getting paid for that job and wishing I was putting away criminals instead.

Go figure. Fallen Nature in action. *shrug*

amanda said...


I too love books and devoured Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Happy Hollisters, Hardy Boys, Betsy and Tacie amoung many other series when young. Almost all my trips to the library involve checking out a previously book or two from the children's or Young adult section. While there are many current good books for children and teens there are also MANY awful books out there. I hope this post encourages parents to direct their kids to some older books.

Adoro said...

Amanda ~ Ah, yes, the Happy Hollisters - read a couple of those, too, from the boxes from my aunt! I'll look them up again, too, thanks!

Yes, I hope this post encourages others to read these books, too. Nothing like them anymore, and they didn't have an agenda other than telling a good story with maybe a little simple education thrown in!