Saturday, October 17, 2009
Childhood Reading: Mysteries
A number of recent experiences/events have conspired to propel me into a new writing project: a series of essays on my childhood reading. The last thing I need is a new writing project, what with so many others (at last count, two novels-in-progress and two substantially researched and partially written legal monographs) already underway. But this excavation of my childhood reading is enormous fun and, as I have as yet attached no particular expectations to it, rather liberating. So I'm running with it.
My current preoccupation is with the mysteries I read as a child. I think that my first mysteries were Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books. My recollection of these is rather hazy. I know that I read many of them but I doubt that I reread them the way I did other favourite series. In retrospect, I realize that Sobol must have been having fun playing off the conventions of adult P.I. novels, with Encyclopedia Brown, "boy detective," setting up a detective agency in his family's garage. If I recall correctly, each book contained a number of mini-mysteries for readers to solve, so the chief pleasure of them was not a sustained narrative, but the puzzle-solving exercise⎯an aspect of adult mysteries that still appeals to me.
I think that from there it was on to Nancy Drew. Again, my recollection of these is hazy, although I know I read many of them and, indeed, even owned several. Enid Blyton's Famous Five novels followed shortly thereafter. I remember my brother and I purchasing stacks of these and sharing them back and forth on our summer trips to Scotland to visit my grandparents.
Of course, there was also Lousie Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, one of my childhood favourites. But I'm inclined to think of Harriet more as an aspiring writer than an aspiring sleuth, the whole spy thing notwithstanding. Still, I'm going to reread it together with some Encyclopedia Browns, and Nancy Drews, and Famous Fives, to see if it fits somehow. For that's what I'm doing now in service of my essay on this topic⎯rereading several of each. You can see why I'm having such fun with this! There are eight Encyclopedia Brown books, and two Nancy Drews already making their way to me via my public library's hold system. And I have several of those battered paperback Famous Five novels still on my shelves, handy for revisiting.
When did I make the leap to adult mysteries, and where did I begin with those? I'm going to have to think a bit longer to pinpoint the when, but I'm quite sure it was straight from the foregoing children's mysteries to Agatha Christie. I remember that a friend from camp loaned me some Ellery Queen books at one point, but I don't think they hooked me the way that the Christies did.
Did you read mysteries in childhood? Which ones and why those? If you moved on from there to adult mysteries, which ones did you sample first?