Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 1998

I recently rediscovered my youth. It made me sneeze.

It lay unremembered at the top of a tall bookcase: 15 vintage Hardy Boys novels by Franklin W. Dixon. In getting them down I took a faceful of dust and beetle carapaces.

I carried the books to my favorite rocking chair, beside my favorite lamp, and reverently broke them open to revisit the literature that had inspired in me a lifelong love of language. The pages were as thick as a shirt collar and ochered with age. They smelled the way old books smell, faintly perfumed, quaintly mysterious, like the lining of Great-Grandma's alligator handbag out in the steamer trunk. I began to read.

Pretty soon a new smell entered the room.

The Hardy Boys stank.

When a group of literati last month published a list of the hundred greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, lionizing "Ulysses" and "The Great Gatsby" and "The Sun Also Rises," I was privately disappointed they had not included "The Missing Chums." I remembered "The Missing Chums" as the pinnacle of human achievement, a meticulously crafted work of American fiction in which Frank and Joe Hardy, the sons of famed sleuth Fenton Hardy, braved choppy seas and grizzled thugs to rescue their kidnapped friends. I had first read it in a backyard hammock strung between sycamore trees during the summer of my 12th year.

Now, through my bifocals, I again confronted "The Missing Chums." Here is how it begins:

"You certainly ought to have a dandy trip."

"I'll say we will, Frank! We sure wish you could come along!"

Frank Hardy grinned ruefully and shook his head. . . .

"Just think of it!" said Chet Morton, the other speaker. "A whole week motorboating along the coast. We're the lucky boys, eh Biff?"

"You bet we're lucky!"

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