Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
by Wendy McClure
April 14, 2011
Borrowed from Library 
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher): For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of a favorite book, here is a pioneer pilgrimage, a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a hilarious account of butter-churning obsession.

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.

I'm a second generation Laura fan - my mom very nearly named me Laura Elizabeth then introduced me to the series by reading Little House in the Big Woods to me when I was three years old. We read all the books together and then I took over the books, reading them again and again until my old yellow copies fell to pieces and I'd spent hundreds of hours pretending I was Laura as I ran through prairies, made maple syrup candy, and fell in love with historical fashion.

This book is exactly what I was hoping it would be. Absolutely charming, funny, sincere, and sometimes snarky all while examining the our love (and by 'our', I mean the generation of women who grew up reading Laura in the 70s and 80s - long after her passing) of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her world, and her fandom. Without sounding creepy, Ms. McClure writes like someone I wish I was friends with, and her observations are always interesting and usually pretty hilarious. This isn't historical writing. Ms. McClure doesn't make any claims to have new ground-breaking research on the Ingalls or Wilder families, but there are plenty of books already written on that. This is a memoir and examination of the ongoing influences of the Little House books on Ms. McClure's life and our culture as a whole.

After finishing this book, I immediately picked up the Little House books to re-read for the millionth time. I missed Laura and wanted to 'see' her again!

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