I finished reading Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her by Melanie Rehak on Tuesday night, it was excellent! The Nancy Drew books have always been a favourite with me, and when I saw this book at Pandemonium I had to have it. I started reading it right after I finished Pat of Silver Bush, and was instantly hooked. Not only is it highly entertaining and delightful to read, but it's also very informative and scholarly.
Many people don't realize that Carolyn Keene is a pen name for multiple ghost writers, and that the Nancy Drew series was the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate (also responsible for such classics as The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins). This book covers the two main ghostwriters; Mildred A. Wirt (Benson) and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. Harriet was Edward's daughter and, along with her sister Edna, took over the Syndicate upon Edward's death in 1930 (unfortunately just prior to the release of the first three Nancy books). Mildred Wirt wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books (she also contributed books to a number of the Syndicate's other series', and wrote books under her own name). Harriet wrote 24 of the last 25 books (of the original series) and also revised and rewrote numbers 1-34 for reissue.
This is another point that many people don't know; the original 34 books in the series were 25 chapters (not 20 chapters as they've been known since the 50s/60s, depending on the book). These original books are apparently more fanciful, with Nancy getting into even bigger scrapes, etc. They were also revised to take out racial epithets, and remove any reference to places or time that would date the series. Books 35 to 56 always had 20 chapters. I only own one of these "blue Nancy Drews" (so-called because all of the books published mass-market until 1961 had some variant of blue hardback, this distinguishes them from "yellow spine" which are the ones I grew up with) and it's a first edition "blue tweed" without dust jacket of #29: The Mystery at the Ski Jump. I only recently found it at a thrift shop, I probably wouldn't have bought it before reading Girl Sleuth, because I wouldn't have known it was different from the "yellow spines".
One of the best parts of Girl Sleuth, apart from all the information on Nancy's transformation, is how Rehak manages to weave in information regarding history, feminism, politics, etc. It was all thoroughly engaging. Also, all the information regarding Mildred and Harriet, and their private lives and public struggles (with each other, the media, and publishers) seemed to be well-researched and was just plain enjoyable. Rehak's writing was intelligent, her style was incredibly readable, and she just knows her stuff. This book has caused me to go digging through a couple of thrift shops and used bookstores already for blue Nancy Drews.
I've only got a couple of pages left of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, it is fantabulous so far, I'll post about it when I'm done.