Book Review: The Wilder Life

When I was in third grade I borrowed a copy of Little House in the Big Woods at the school library. By some strange coincidence that same day my Mom had borrowed a copy of Little House on the Prairie for me at the county library. I was so surprised. I read both books quickly and became obsessed with the series and the idea of living the pioneer life. I wanted to grow my hair longer and wear long skirts and dresses just like Laura and her sisters. I would imagine riding a horse or driving a wagon on my way to school. My Barbies served as substitute Lauras, Marys and Nellys. While other girl’s Barbies were trying out different fashions and driving their corvette, my Barbies were always striking out West in a covered wagon–which I was so excited to receive one year–a Jane West doll along with a plastic horse with actual covered wagon. My Barbies would set out across the backyard and make camp for the evening and live off land setting up to homestead when they reached a nice piece of level grass. The horror the day my father filled in the sprinkler run-off from our next door neighbors which was I was using as my Plum Creek.

Wendy McClure with her book the Wilder Life does a great job of capturing that little girl feelings for Laura and the Little House books as you follow along on her quest to discover more about Laura and the real-life she lived. She learns to churn butter, makes a hay stick and travels to different sites that the Ingalls and Wilders lived, visits museums, sees festivals, etc. You learn a little bit about Rose Wilder Lane–the controversy over whether she wrote the books or Laura did, and how the books are in the fiction section in the library. The editor in me would have liked some photos included in the book–her descriptions of photos aren’t enough, but luckily they are all only an Internet click away. And it wouldn’t have been all that bad if she would have included a recipe or two, surely permissions from some of the other books she mentioned could have been included. I did really enjoy the adventure with the extremist Christians on the Prairie. Her descriptions of Garth William’s illustrations also makes me hope that someone will do a similar book on him. She also has some good comments on the difference between the book and TV fans. I was never a big fan of the television series–I just couldn’t get over Little House in the rolling golden hills of California.

But overall, this is just the kind of memoir-project book I like. What do they call this genre? Maybe experiential memoir. Where the author sets out to relive, discover and learn, and you are along for the ride? There have always been books about a subject, but in the past decade or so it is as much about the author as it is about the subject. I think this genre could only come along in the post-blog Internet world–Goodreads has a good list for it called, “I Did Something For a Year and Wrote a Memoir about It.” I blame it all on Under the Tuscan Sun–certainly not the first but one of the most successful that spawned more. Combine this type of book with a literary topic or books and you’ve sucked me right in. It allowed me a few moments to recollect on my own obsessions.

If you are a fan, you have your favorites–what are they? My favorite in the series were the two later books–Little Town in the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years. Little Town most likely because Nellie makes a grand reappearance. And Golden Years because who wouldn’t want to be courted by sleigh or carriage drives at least once in her life? My least favorite was By the Shores of Silver Lake–I don’t know why, that one I always had a hard time getting through.

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