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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Winspear, Jacqueline: Pardonable Lies | Main | Kellerman, Jesse: Trouble »

Rehak, Melanie: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

  

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Harcourt © 2005, 364 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Melanie Rehak has written a fascinating history of Nancy Drew, the preternaturally competent girl sleuth whose line of wholesome mysteries was one of some two dozen series published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate beginning in the early 20th century. Edward Stratemeyer, a prolific writer of children's literature himself--Rehak reports that he published 42 dime novels between May of 1892 and November of 1893 alone--created the Syndicate in 1905. The idea was that children's books would be written by Stratemeyer in collaboration with a number of ghostwriters and published pseudonymously. Stratemeyer provided detailed outlines and farmed the stories out to his stable of writers, and he edited the incoming manuscripts, sometimes extensively, a process meant to ensure consistency in style and plot from book to book. At the same time, the publication of the books under pseudonyms meant that the continuation of a series would not depend on the performance of any one author. Stratemeyer's creations included a great many familiar names--the Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and of course the Hardy Boys. In 1929 he interested his publisher, Grosset & Dunlap, in a new series of mysteries aimed at girls, and he assigned the first Nancy Drew books to Mildred Augustine Wirt, the first of two strong-willed women who would be inextricably linked with the girl detective. Stratemeyer did not live to see the meteoric success of his creation. He died in 1930, after which the Syndicate was run by his two daughters, Harriet and Edna, but primarily by the former. Harriet would control the Syndicate and its creations up until her death in 1982.

She came, in fact, to claim to be Carolyn Keene herself--the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books--giving no credit to Mildred Wirt, who wrote 23 of the first 30 books in the series (as well as many other books for the Syndicate).Rehak tells the story of Nancy Drew against a backdrop of 20th century history, describing how Nancy changed with the times--her fashion and lingo receiving occasional updates, for example, and the whole series undergoing an overhaul in the late sixties, in part to purge it of racist language. (The Nancy you grew up with, that is, may not have been the one your mother knew.) Rehak brings the story right up to the present: Simon & Schuster, which purchased the Syndicate after Harriet Stratemeyer's death, recently released a new series of Nancy Drew books in celebration of her 75th birthday. Much of Rehak's book is focused on the sometimes contentious relationship between Harriet Stratemeyer and Mildred Wirt. The Stratemeyer Syndicate was jealous of its properties, and Harriet in particular was a fierce guardian of the secrets behind the books' authorship. She came, in fact, to claim to be Carolyn Keene herself--the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books--giving no credit to Mildred Wirt, who wrote 23 of the first 30 books in the series (as well as many other books for the Syndicate). The uneasy relationship between the two women makes Rehak's book that much more compelling.

Rehak's book is clearly the product of a great deal of research, and it is smoothly written. The story behind Nancy Drew's authorship is a complicated one, made so in part by Harriet Stratemeyer's deliberate obfuscation of the truth over the years, but Rehak has done a good job of unknotting the girl detective's messy history. I enjoyed in particular the details included on the inner workings of the Syndicate and would have liked to know even more about the collaborative process, if possible--an example of the synopses the Syndicate supplied its authors with would have made interesting reading, for example. The book might also have been improved by the inclusion of a complete list of Nancy Drew books, with publication year, author, publishing history, etc. My only complaint about the book is that Rehak sometimes goes into more detail than is necessary about tangential subjects. We learn, for example, not only about Harriet Stratemeyer's preparations for entering Wellesley College--a campus visit in 1910, entrance exams--but also about the founding of the institution by Henry Durant in 1875.

But Girl Sleuth tells a story that should interest anyone who grew up on any of the Stratemeyer staples--Nancy Drew or Frank and Joe Hardy or any of their counterparts. Certainly reading the series' back story made me interested in digging up some Nancy Drews myself.

Review summary: Melanie Rehak has written a fascinating history of Nancy Drew, the preternaturally competent girl sleuth whose series of mysteries was one of some two dozen published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Syndicate's books, including the Hardy Boys mysteries, were the product of collaboration between Edward Stratemeyer, who created the Syndicate in 1905, and his stable of ghostwriters. Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew in 1929 and assigned the job of writing the books to Mildred Wirt, the first of two strong-willed women who would be inextricably linked with the girl detective. After Stratemeyer's death in 1930 the Syndicate was run by his daughter, Harriet. Much of Rehak's book is focused on the contentious relationship between Harriet and Mildred: the Syndicate was jealous of its properties, and Harriet was a fierce guardian of the secrets behind the books' authorship. The uneasy relationship between the two women makes Rehak's book that much more compelling.

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Comments

1.

If you are interested, the writers and editors for the first 78 books in the Nancy Dtrew series can be found here:

http://www.keeline.com/Nancy_Drew.pdf

2.

Thanks, Tom! I'll check it out.




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.