“I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too. We lived with our family in the Big Woods, and then we all traveled in a covered wagon to Indian Territory, where Pa built us another house, out on high land where the prairie grasses swayed. Right?”
So begins Wendy McClure’s nostalgic, funny, sentimental and irreverent look at all things Laura, in The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.
This book could have been a lot of things.
It could have been a guidebook that invited you to follow her adventures. It isn’t, although I’m sure that the tourism industries in Upstate New York, Wisconsin, Kansas, and of course South Dakota (home of De Smet Walnut Grove), will appreciate the boost that McClure’s thoughts about her own visits might give them.
It could have been a cynical and maudlin look back at the days of her youth and innocence, but it wasn’t that either. She managed to take her youthful excitement and exuberance with her as she visits the Ingalls Wilder homesites and finds out about Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder. So those of us who grew up like she did in the 70’s and 80’s are able to remember that time joyfully and appreciate the references to our generation. For example, she says that she always saw Farmer Boy as a sort of spin-off on the series, and then goes on to admit that she knows that some fans will be dismayed by the comparison to Joanie Loves Chachi. If you’re not between the ages of 35 and 45, that reference might go completely over your head, but I loved it.
These elements come together to make my favorite kind of memoir. I think of them as project memoirs (my favorite writer of these is A.J. Jacobs). Yes, we get to know Wendy McClure — her past, and perhaps what it is in her present and future that is driving this little project. We hear her voice (Did I mention that it is delightfully funny and irreverent and yet also sentimental?). We find out what she learned (The Ingalls were very small people — size-wise — and the places they lived are even smaller than you might have imagined). And all the while, we connect with the author. She makes us yearn for a partner who would read the books, like her boyfriend Chris does. We remember our own memories of “Laura World” — wanting to make maple syrup candy in the snow, use a pail to carry our lunch to school, and become a teacher in the same one-room schoolhouse years later.
I read this book with a silly grin on my face. I savored the fact that I have my original blue-boxed set right on my bookshelf and so that I can make plans to go back and read those books again. If you also grew up with Little House on the Prairie — either the books or the television show because there’s a fair amount in the book about “Landon World” as well — that you will probably love this book, unless it offends you, which I guess it might if you think it improper to poke fun at LHOP, Laura, or her followers (and yes, there are a few long-skirted homeschooler stereotypes).
The mix of humor, information about a beloved children’s series, and nostalgia earns The Wilder Life a place on our 5 Star Reads page.
This giveaway is closed.
I’m also pleased to let you know that I have a copy to give away. Leave a comment if you want to win, and on April 20 I’ll pick a name out of my sunbonnet.
- The winner of Watch Me Grow is #19 Evelyn.
- The winner of the three baseball books from Sleeping Bear Press is #2 Annette W.
Jennifer Donovan has never slept in a covered wagon or churned butter, but she blogs about more mundane pursuits at Snapshot.