What I Read this Week: March 22-28, 2012

28 Mar

Is there anything better than playing with a pig bladder balloon?

As a child, I was a Little House freak. I wore long “pioneer skirts” (aka whatever floral 80’s monstrosity I could find in my mom’s closet), considered what exactly I would pack if I needed to go on a jaunt across the country in a covered wagon, and pondered the logistics of how to get a whole pig so I could make my very own pig bladder balloon. Even though I read all the books, some multiple times, today I couldn’t tell you much of what happened beyond the general storyline arc (little girl lives in the wilderness where there are a ton of wild animals including PANTHERS, moves around a lot with her fiddle playing dad and soon to be blind sister, and ends up marrying a man named Almanzo, MANLY for short). In a fit of nostalgia, I decided to re-read the whole series to see how it holds up.
I read the first two books in the series this week: Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.

I plan to write more about these books as I read them, so this week is just first impressions time:

  • “OMG the type in these books is MASSIVE!” I remember thinking these books were impressively long. Now I know it’s because each page fits about 5-8 words.
  • All novels should have pictures. I don’t know why we abandon this once we start reading adult books. It can only make books better.
  • These books are so much more instructive than I remembered. They are practically “How to live as a 1870’s Pioneer” manuals, with fairly detailed instructions on how to make headcheese, hickory smoke meat, build a latch for your door, dig a well, etc etc etc. Little House in the Big Woods in particular has very little plot and seems more like a collection of remembrances. If I ever need to know how to make maple sugar candy, I know where to go.
  •  Laura REALLY wants to see a papoose. REALLY REALLY REALLY wants to. As in, she’s brings it up endlessly. When she finally does see one, as all the Indians are being forced off their land and marching west, she begs her father to steal it. Yes. Laura Ingalls, as a child, wanted her father to steal a baby. SHOCKING. This is a part of the very uneasy relationship between settlers and the Native Americans that is fairly well explored (at least from the settlers’ limited and sometimes very racist point of view)
  • There is some really beautiful writing in these books. Wilder wrote in a simple, straight forward style that is easy for children to follow, but also builds a gorgeous settings.  For example, this passage makes me want to get up, leave LA and head out for the prairie ASAP:

    “No road, not even the faintest trace of wheels or of a rider’s passing, could be seen anywhere. That prairie looked as if no human eye had ever seen it before. Only the tall wild grass covered the endless, empty land and a great empty sky arched over it. Far away the sun’s edge touched the rim of the earth. The sun was enormous and it was throbbing and pulsing with light. All around the sky’s edge ran a pale pink glow, and above the pink was yellow, and above that blue. Above the blue the sky was no color at all. Purple shadows were gathering over the land, and the wind was mourning.”

I also read The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure this week. I love the idea of this book — McClure was a Little House fan as a child, so as an adult she jumps into the Little House world, making their recipes, churning her own butter, and visiting as many Little House sites as she can. She stumbles on a Little House world in which people dress in pioneer clothes, can their own butter (yuck) and use Wilder’s books to bolster their religious and political views. McClure is a chatty, friendly narrator, although at times it feels like the narrative gets a bit stuck or sidetracked by small anecdotes.

Is this high literature? No. Is it enthusiastic? Oh yes, and I think that counts for a lot in this type of writing. She cares about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the sub-culture that has grown up around her books, and so the reader cares. Also, now I feel like I have a good idea of which Little House sites are worth visiting and which aren’t if I’m ever in the mid-West. That’s definitely worth something!


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