Desperately Seeking Nancy Drew


I’m a collector at heart, something that has caused me no small amount of trouble when it comes to books. I started young, maniacally memorizing the order of the Black Stallion series, double-checking that my many-colored Goosebumps books were in the right order, and constantly comparing the facial expressions of the Wakefields to decide which was Elizabeth and which was Jessica on the Sweet Valley Twins covers.

Far and away, the series that gave me the most amount of anxiety was my Nancy Drew Grosset & Dunlap editions. There was no Internet to access an amazing amount of information such as link: to help me decode the printings, editions, and reprints. Yes, I probably could have asked a librarian or a bookseller for some help but… I fancied I was a bit of a sleuth myself.

Desperately Seeking Nancy Drew

You could frequently find me on the floor of my local library or bookstore (R.I.P. Waldenbooks) underneath that ever-present row of yellow spines, copying down the titles on the back and making checkmarks next to the ones I had or didn’t have, depending on my mood and how much money was in my pocket. By the time I was in middle school, I felt I had the Nancy Drew issue mostly under control.


And then this happened. secretscankill


Yes, it was an updated Nancy Drew, with everyone wearing puffy clothes and sweater vests. This plagued me from 1986 onward, with a whopping 124 books to collect. I would occasionally drift away from the goal, then find a title I’d never heard of taunting me from the library shelf, usually with an obscenely high number (#111??!?! How did that happen? I just found #23!) By 1997, Nancy was using computers to solve mysteries— and so was I.


Lists! Pictures! Titles in chronological order! The Internet was my friend… but unfortunately, Nancy didn’t rank for me anymore. I was going to college. My paperbacks couldn’t go with me and Mom was interpreting “empty nest” literally, and so I did some shelf sweeping.


But not my yellow Nancy Drews, some of which were my mom’s.


So my books traveled with me, from college to first home, to second home. I don’t have a pristine book collection, by any means. They were dumped, dropped, stacked, and moved more times than I can count. All of my books are well loved, with cracked spines, yellowed pages, dirty thumb smudges, and curled corners. A true book collector might look at what I have and see nothing more than lost value. But a book lover would see what I do: books that have been loved, read, eaten over, cried with, and sweated on into the long hours of the night back when I didn’t have air conditioning and my reading lamp produced real, palpable heat.


I prefer them that way. My books have been read, multiple times. And that’s what they are for, to be interacted with and touched. I love my banged-up books, and The Secret of the Old Clock ranks highly as one of the most abused, since I was determined to one day read the entire series, starting with the first, straight through to the end. But I always lost my steam somewhere along the way, distracted by some other series or a new release. So The Secret of the Old Clock suffered many re-readings and handlings… whereas I’m pretty sure my copy of The Mystery of the Fire Dragon has never been cracked.


I still have them, and yes, those gaps of missing books in my series still mock me. Someday I need to use eBay to fill those holes, but where’s the fun in that? I may have outgrown Nancy but a bit of her is still lurking inside, sending me to the easily spotted “yellow shelf” whenever I wander into a used bookstore.


And then I’m a kid again, staring at the artwork and getting some delicious chills from the cover of The Message in the Hollow Oak and The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion. And of course, I flip the book over and scan the titles, trying to remember which ones I don’t have… and which ones I do.