Reading Challenge month 4 ~ A book that came out the year you were born

99Steps In my grandparents’ house (if you didn’t count the steps leading to the veranda outside the front door), there were maybe 10 steps. They were slick, steep, linoleum-covered steps that led from the main floor down to the basement. There was a landing halfway down where you made a 90-degree turn. The steps were so steep and slippery that if you were wearing just socks and were in a hurry you were in danger of falling hard. Which I did more than once.

The basement at my grandparents house was full of mystery. For one thing, it was like a whole different house down there. I mean, another home. There was a bedroom and bathroom and laundry room and boiler room. And there was a huge room we called the “rec room” where there were beds against the walls and a tiny kitchen in the corner.

The rec room sometimes held a ping pong table and sometimes held a table top hockey game. Ping pong I understood (though never excelled at), but the hockey game was a mystery. How in the world did you know which lever controlled which hockey player, and how could you have enough hands to safely pass the plastic puck from one player to the other and into the goal? My uncles knew. They were hockey fiends. They played it in the street out front of the house during the afternoons and early evenings. They played it at the local ice rink. And they played it in the basement on the table top hockey game.

The kitchen in the rec room was especially fun for two little granddaughters on a summer afternoon. We could play house down there and pretend to cook. The kitchen—at the time—was a mystery, but I came to learn later that many houses on that street had the same setup: in times of financial need, you could take in boarders who would have their own entrance and kitchen.

The rec room also had a mystery door. On the far wall, covered with ancient portraits of stern looking family members, there was a door that was never opened. My sister and I stared at the door a lot and discussed what might be behind it, but we never saw anyone else open it or come through it.

One otherwise boring afternoon I got brave, with all my black-and-white ancestors looking on, and I opened the door just a couple inches. Behind it was another door. The very presence of that second door terrified me, and I slammed the first door hard.

It was years later when I learned the solution to that mystery: a cold cellar. The very thing I wish we had in this house.

There was a cupboard under those slippery stairs and, on another long afternoon when I was exploring the secrets of this house I loved, I opened the cupboard door. Inside, I found several pairs of crutches (I imagine that three hockey playing uncles probably needed crutches more than once) and a shelf with several volumes of Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mysteries.

Our summers never lacked for books. We went to the library every week and came home with armloads of books, but there weren’t that many books that lived in the house on a permanent basis. This small collection was a surprise and another mystery. Who had read them before? My mother and my uncles, I supposed.

I’d never read a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy mystery before. I pulled out dusty bluish hard covered volume called “The Mystery of the 99 Steps,” crept up the stairs, and lay down on the bed.

The summer afternoon slowly melted away while Nancy solved all of her mysteries. The sun fizzled out behind the back yard and the street lights out front came on. At night, the street was quiet and the curbs were borders for unknown countries. My sister and sat out on the verandah, our thighs sticking to the plastic chairs, cool bowls of chocolate ice cream in our hands, moths dancing around the lights. And we knew everything. Absolutely everything.


Our books for month 4:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


I’m a couple days late posting this, so let’s bump the due date out a bit. We’ll see you back here on June 11!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.