Reading Matters

‘Secret Garden’ welcome dose of reality for Nancy Stancill

I grew up in a small Virginia town with not much to do, so I reveled in books as entertainment. I was lucky to have a sister four years older who also loved to read, so I’d finish my books and read hers. The town librarian knew my family and she scrutinized my selections carefully when she checked them out for me. I remember she occasionally threatened to call my mother when she saw a book she regarded as inappropriate, but I don’t think she ever did. My older sister and I always got library cards when we went on beach vacations. There were five children in our family, but she and I were the only passionate readers. It’s still a pleasure to swap recommendations with her.

THE SECRET GARDEN, Frances Hodgson Burnett. This was the only book I read as a child where the young protagonist was bitter, unlikable and unhappy. I found it a welcome dose of reality in the mostly saccharine world of children’s literature. When I was growing up, authors often didn’t take into account the fact that children have complicated, turbulent inner lives. I was entranced by the story of Mary Lennox and how her life changes as she makes friends and discovers the delights of nature.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, Lucy Maude Montgomery. I devoured all of the books in this series, even the later ones about Anne’s children. I still regard Anne Shirley as a great protagonist for young readers because the redheaded orphan, melodramatic and temperamental, is so imperfect. She lives and loves passionately, and her passion drives the series. I hope to make a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, the land of Anne, before I die.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. Salinger. I read this book at 13, and reread it many times through my teen years. As a teenager in a small town, I didn’t have many ways to rebel, so I rebelled vicariously through the adventures of Holden Caulfield. I gave Catcher to my son when he was a teen and was surprised that he didn’t like it. But I think its appeal was greatest to baby boomers growing up in the 1960s. I read it again last year from the perspective of a mother and mostly found Holden’s inner life scary and sad.

THE DETECTIVE NOVELS OF P.D. JAMES. I started reading Agatha Christie mysteries at 12 and have always kept a good suspense novel on my bedside table. But for me, P.D. James is the master of the genre. She proved that mysteries and thrillers don’t have to be shallow or forgettable. Hers have the complex characters and sense of place more often found in good literary fiction. She was vigorous and prolific into her 90s. Definitely a role model!

PAST IMPERFECT, Julian Fellowes. The master storyteller of Downton Abbey has also produced two provocative novels centered on British upper-class life and mores. I read Past Imperfect when I was living in England a few years ago and loved its plot, characters and storytelling, centered on a look back at London’s last debutante season in 1968. Its themes of love, loss and redemption resonated with me and inspired me to get on with writing my own novel.

NANCY STANCILL’S first novel, SAVING TEXAS, was published by Black Rose Writing in 2013. It’s a thriller loosely based on her experiences as an investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle. She also worked as an investigative reporter and an editor for the Charlotte Observer. She is finishing a second novel. She and her husband live in Charlotte.