What I Read This Week: 5/10-5/16

16 May

The themes of this week were coming of age! Self-reliance! Old-timey!

Has there ever been a more disingenuous book cover? No. I think not. This cover makes it seem like the long winter was full of fun, silly snowball fights and adorable coat and hat outfits. Look at how happy they are! Just look!

No.

You know what the long winter was full of? Starvation! Twisting straw to make it into logs you can burn so you don’t freeze to death! The never ending grinding of wheat to make gross bread! Darkness! Blizzard upon blizzard upon blizzard! And those trains with the supplies? THEY NEVER EVER EVER COME.

You know what’s amazing? Electricity. Without electricity, you would just sit around during these dark days upon days of blizzard waiting until you can go to sleep again. Plus, it was 40 degrees below zero, so you spent most of your time feeling like you might just die of cold and huddling around a sad little stove. Life in South Dakota in the 1870’s was straight up awful.

I remember loving The Long Winter when I read it as a kid, and it definitely holds up. It’s grim, dark, and taps into my love of survival stories. Most highly recommended.

And then to flip the whole feel of the last book around 180 degrees, there is Little Town on the Prairie. Instead of long descriptions of hunger and blizzards, we get unending descriptions of clothes and fashion. Hoop skirts, bangs (as in your hair), corsets, ribbons, hats, etc etc etc etc. I never knew the Ingalls were so obsessed with fashion! They have a grand old time at religious revivals and spelling bees and birthday parties and socials and…a minstrel show. Yikes. Yet another example of Wilder staying very true to the era, in a way that makes 21st century readers squirm in their seats. (Another ugly example of this is in The Long Winter when a Native American stops by to tell the white settlers “Heap big snow come.” WHYYYYY UGHHHHHHH).

Anyway, this is the frothiest of the Little House books, even as the girls grow up and start their adult lives. Mary goes off to the college for the blind in Iowa, while Laura looks to her future as a teacher. There are only two books left in the series (unless I decide to re-read Farmer Boy, my least favorite by far as a child. Who cares about Almanzo? Really?), and it feels like it’s all wrapping up.

I loved this New Yorker article about the uneasy authorial relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It’s extra credit reading for any Little House fan.

I also read an actual grown-up novel this week: Caleb’s Crossing, the latest from Geraldine Brooks.

You know how there are books that aren’t bad, but you feel like you should really, really like…but you just can’t bring yourself to? That’s how I felt about Caleb’s Crossing. The novel fictionalizes the life of Caleb, one of the first Native Americans to graduate from Harvard in the mid-17th century. It tells his story through the eyes of Bethia, a smart, stifled young woman who is trying to find her place in a very patriarchal society.

Doesn’t it all sound awesome? Doesn’t it sound like something I’d be interested in? And I was…kind of. Why can’t more things happen? Why does everyone have to be so Puritan and boring?!  I know. I’m a whiney reader.  The writing was gorgeous, and yet it just seemed so plodding and blah.

Yes. That was my very eloquent sum up. Plodding and blah. But not bad!

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