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Noteworthy books

Notable Books | Four notable books about the power of words

Reading Like a Writer

Style: Novelist Francine Prose tutors readers in the art of close reading, guiding their attention to the choices writers make when crafting their work.

Gist: Speed-readers and skimmers take note: Reading slowly, with attention to individual words, sentences, and paragraphs, reveals buried literary treasures. Learning to see and appreciate these treasures enriches the experience of reading and improves would-be writers. Prose offers herself as a passionate tour guide through a range of literary excerpts, pointing out and explaining what authors are doing and why.

The Things That Matter

Style: A guided tour through seven English novels, chosen to represent seven stages of life: birth, childhood, growth, marriage, love, parenthood, and the future.

Gist: Mendelson chose the particular novels (Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, and three by Virginia Woolf) because they "treat most deeply the great experiences of personal life." He looks closely at each novel and the beliefs and experiences of the authors who wrote them. The title reflects his view that the personal lives of individuals matter-and that fiction can illuminate important questions.

The English Reader

Style: An anthology of English-language writings (excluding novels) chosen for their literary beauty and importance and meant to highlight England's "complex literary and political tradition."

Gist: The Ravitches draw selections dating from the 16th-century invasion threat from the Spanish Armada to the World War II threat from the Nazis. Brief introductions provide biographical information, put writers in historical context, and explain the influence they exerted on other writers and thinkers.

Girl Sleuth

Style: A dual biography of the two women, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt, who produced Nancy Drew books.

Gist: The Stratemeyer Syndicate, started by Harriet's father, created almost every popular children's series in the United States, including Rover Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and Bomba the Jungle Boy. The story of the Syndicate and the two ladies responsible for Nancy Drew is fascinating -so it's worth plowing through Rehak's cultural history of feminism to get to it.

Spotlight

For a long time librarians banned Nancy Drew novels from the library, yet those bans only encouraged greater sales of the books. That's because syndicate founder Edward Stratemeyer knew how to produce books that kids wanted to read.

At first he wrote them himself, but when the load got heavy he began hiring ghostwriters. They wrote from his outlines; he edited the books and chose Mildred Wirt, already ghostwriting another series, to write the first several Nancy Drew books. When Stratemeyer died in 1930, just 12 days after the first Nancy Drew was published, his daughter Harriet took over the syndicate and heroine.

Wirt was a childhood tomboy, a college athlete, and the first woman to get a master's in journalism from the University of Iowa. Harriet Stratemeyer was a Wellesley graduate, married mother of four, and society lady. In Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her (Harvest Book paperback, 2006), Melanie Rehak explores the relations between the two women as they both struggled to balance work and family, and leave an imprint on Nancy Drew.

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