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Nancy Drew Inspires Girlhood Dreams of a 'Fun Job'

Summer reading summons memories of Nancy Drew for Nina Totenberg.
Summer reading summons memories of Nancy Drew for Nina Totenberg.

Whether it's the indulgent hours or lighter genres, summer reading is characterized by its reverie. In My Summer Books, NPR hosts and reporters share their memories of summer reading and books. Today, Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent.

Do you have a favorite memory of summer reading?

My first love affair with books was in the summer in Aspen, Colo., where my father played violin and taught in the summer. In those days, Aspen was a very small place, with no TV or radio signal that got across the mountains, but it had a wonderful, small public library. It was there that I discovered Nancy Drew, who became my model for female success in life.

I devoured her adventures, trotting into the one-room library almost daily to trade in one book for the next. I soon discovered other female heroines -- Nurse Cherry Ames, stewardess Vicki Barr, and other mystery solvers. But Nancy was the perfect one, with the perfect boyfriend, the perfect jack-knife dive, the perfect instinct for something gone awry, and of course, she was fearless. I was anything but fearless, but Nancy's successes gave me hope that in a world where men had all the fun jobs, I too would one day get one of those jobs.

What types of books do you enjoy, particularly this time of year?

I wish I could tell you about my highly intellectual reading, but I am not a novel reader for the most part. I read a little mystery trash and a lot of nonfiction -- biographies and page-turning history, mostly.

One of my favorite and least-known nonfiction finds was 20th Century Journey: A Memoir of a Life and the Times: The Start: 1904-1930 by William Shirer. He was one of Murrow's boys who is most famous for his books about the Third Reich. But this little gem is a wonderful account of life in America in the early part of the 20th century and the molding of a young journalist.

One biography I recommend often is about Chief Justice John Marshall, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith. It explains Marshall and also American life in the early years of the Republic. Marshall was one of George Washington's lieutenants in the Revolutionary War. He was also a key player in the ratification debates over the Constitution, a diplomat, and, of course, a lawyer. Without doubt, he was the most important chief justice in the nation's history. He was also a women's rights advocate, a cook for his invalid wife... well, you get my drift.

Among the other books that suit my summer taste for page-turning history include No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and, a book I recently read about the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.