Ten cents. That’s how much I paid for my very first purchase at the Berkshire Athenaeum book sale. The book? Nancy Drew’s The Secret of the Old Clock. I am thinking of this as I read in the paper that typewriters, a desk, and other keepsakes from the home of the late Mildred Wirt Benson were brought up for auction in Toledo, Ohio.
Ms. Benson was a longtime newspaper reporter and columnist, but we knew her by the name Carolyn Keene. Under that pseudonym, and under contract not to reveal her real identity, she wrote 23 of the 30 original Nancy Drew stories. She also wrote more than 100 other books, including the 1940s Penny Parker mystery series.
I loved imagining myself as a sleuth, solving crimes in the beautiful town of River Heights. I could see myself riding in the blue coupe along with her two best friends and co-solvers of crime, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and commiserating with a boyfriend as smart and handsome as Ned Nickerson. (I can remember all these names, but still can’t remember where I left my car keys.)
I could really lose myself in Nancy Drew’s world. How many times did my mother say to me, “Carol, get up and rest your eyes. You’re going to get a headache.”
Boy, would I love to see Mildred Benson’s writing room. I have visited many authors’ homes, including those of Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Ernest Hemingway. At each one I roam, touch what is allowed to be touched, sit in the garden, and breathe in the air — all in the hope of channeling their talent and inspiration.
But, “Carolyn Keene” was the one who ignited my passion for reading. Educational authorities may scoff at my choice of literature, but I am of the opinion that any material that gets kids to read and that fires the imagination is good.
Now that I know her real name, I wish I could thank Ms. Benson in person. This blog post will have to do.
Thank you, Mildred.