Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: The Wilder Life

Author: Wendy McClure
Publish date: April 2011
Source: Library
"Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she's never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura's hometowns. Whether she's churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of "the Laura experience." Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder's life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened." (from Goodreads)

Let's get this out of the way first: I was and am obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. My mom bought me the set when we were on a family vacation in Florida, probably because I was whining about having nothing to read. She had no idea what she had created by giving me those innocent little books. I was hooked. I wanted to know Laura. I wanted to be Laura. I wanted to live in the 1800s. I remember even writing a letter to her and sleeping with it under my pillow. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I thought she would magically write back because, you know, she's Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I wanted everything to do with that family and that series of books (and nothing to do with the TV show because, hello, it was all wrong and stupid and WRONG).

When I was 12, we took a family road trip out west and on the drive home (to Michigan), my obnoxious and ever-observant self noticed that we were starting to see signs for De Smet, SD, which is where the Ingalls family finally settled down. I relayed this info to my parents, who didn't really say anything back. This upset me, because I thought maybe we could stop there on the way home. Pre-teen Kyle was bummed. BUT, but, then my parents surprised me and we took a detour to De Smet so I could relive my obsession. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday so most things were closed, but we got to see some buildings and the cemetery where Ma, Pa, Mary, Carrie, and Grace are buried (Laura is in Missouri). I was elated.

Anyway, the point is I have always loved those books. When I heard about The Wilder Life, I knew I had to read it and it didn't disappoint. Wendy McClure is a hilarious writer and throughout the entire book, I was either laughing, or thinking "SHE IS ME." She and others that she discusses are also in love with these books and people and know all the tiny, intricate details that I do. It was interesting to read about what she thought of all the sites that she visited, including each place the Ingallses lived in the books, and a few that are not mentioned. She jumped around a little bit within chapters, which could be confusing, but it was mostly interesting and for me, fascinating. She also mentions many other books that have been written about LIW, a few of which I plan on reading because I want to know more about the REAL Laura, not the slightly fictionalized Laura and co. that we've all read about.

This is not a book that you should read unless you are a big LIW fan. There are lots of little details that have only peaked my interest/obsession again and now I'm ready to take a road trip to visit all the sites that she wrote about. I would especially like to visit Mansfield, MO, and check out De Smet again, since I had so little time there before. Who's coming with me?!?!?

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