When I was 4, I fell in love for the first time. The object of my affections was Jemima the rag-doll from Play School. That was a trial run. I was 7 or 8 when I got my first serious crush. She was an older woman: red-haired, wholesome, adventurous and intelligent. She was 16. She was always 16. Her name was Nancy. My love for her – like the young Julian Barnes’s love for an older woman – did a great deal to shape my life.
The Nancy Drew mysteries (I didn’t know, then, that ‘mystery’ is what Americans call a detective story) were the first series of books to which I became completely addicted. And, since there were dozens of them, it seemed as if I could never run out – useful, for a child who weekly exhausted his borrowing limit at Dorking Library.
My grandfather got into the habit, for a bit, of buying me one a week. Whenever I had a book token, it was into the bookshop at the top of the main street (I can’t for the life of me remember its name) that I would go. Oh! the anticipation of a fresh one, a fresh mystery, smelling of new paperback, picked off the long shelf of Nancy Drew books in the children’s section and taken home in a crisp paper bag.
That long shelf was itself a part of the pleasure. I grew a long shelf of my own. Before I piqued myself on my row of white-spined Picador books in my teens, or the black-spined battalion of Penguin Classics (a purple stripe across the top for Latin or Greek; red for English; yellow for Russian or French; and the odd showy green if you had the Bhagavad Gita), my pride was in a lengthening collection of uniform Nancy Drew mysteries, filed in numerical order. It was a great long stripe of primrose.
The editions matter, the physical books matter, when you’re reading with that intensity: they are part of the memory. This was when Armada was publishing them in the UK in a uniform design that one collector I’ve found online has called the ‘yellow box’ editions. The covers w
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in