Book Review: "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure

Summary from 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 McClure has never been to yet somehow knows by heart. She traces 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 — exploring 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 have been waiting for this book for a LONG time. Not actually this particular book (though as you will soon tell I am so glad that I did) but I mean the concept of the book in general. I have been a Little House fan since I was 8 years old and I have been waiting to see if there was someone else in this world who shared some of the obsession that I had with those books. I have found that person in Wendy McClure. Within the first 5 pages of this book, I was pretty much reading my childhood and howling with laughter. There's so much in this book that I enjoyed, I can only mention highlights.

McClure goes on a journey to visit all the historical, cultural and entertainment sites tied to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House legacy. She brings her boyfriend along for the ride and the two of them infuse their enthusiasm and snarky (yet respectful) humor through their adventures across the prairie. It's almost like a travelogue in a covered wagon. I also really liked how McClure talks about the research she did, the books she read, archives she visited, people she contacted in order to fully understand the whole phenomenon and the true history behind it.

I'm not a fan of the TV show like I am the books. I tried to get into the TV show but the differences was too much to keep me watching for very long. I am so glad that she agreed that Michael Landon is not at all how one pictures Pa. I mean he has no beard! Who shaves daily and that clean close on the prairie in the 1800s?! Another section that made me grin was the section on the American Girl dolls. I was/am a big fan of the books growing up and I really wanted to get one of those dolls for my own. McClure notes the similarities and differences between AG and LH and it's really interesting what she comes up with.

I got incredibly giddy when McClure brought up the Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker. That is one of my absolute favorite cookbooks of all time to read (especially while I'm eating) but I didn't know anyone else that knew about it. So imagine my geekiness when it's mentioned in the book AND McClure tries to make vanity cakes! Plus she brings up the fact that food is a HUGE HUGE factor of the Little House books. I loved how after taking the tour of the Farmer Boy house, they mention how it wasn't really complete because you don't get any food (or see the doughnut jar) which is pretty much what that book consists of.

The only thing for me that I found lacking is that McClure, though while mentioning other spinoffs, did not mention the children's books based on the lives of Rose, Caroline, Charlotte (Laura's grandmother) or Martha (Laura's great-grandmother). I can see her overlooking the books about Caroline, Charlotte or Martha but the books on Rose were very popular and I myself enjoyed them very much. Now that I think about it, maybe a tiny brief passing reference is made to them, but I would have liked a little more mention. This is particularly of interest because when she visits the museum in Mansfield and people didn't really visit the Rose side because she wasn't popular as her parents. From reading The Rose Years books, I would have been very interested to learn more about her and I'm sure there were plenty young girls in my generation who read those books and felt the same way.

That being said, I absolutely adored this memoir. McClure has written on a subject very near and dear to my heart and explored it in ways that I wish that I could. There are things I discovered about Laura Ingalls Wilder that I never knew before and now wish to explore on my own. She went to places that I will probably never get to go and saw them through a mindset similar to my own. There's so much in this book that it's hard to describe every single detail that I enjoyed because that's practically the whole book. This is another one of my favorite memoirs of 2011 and it's really a great book for all Little House fans everywhere. If you have ever pretended to be Half-Pint, this book is for you. VERY HIGHLY recommended.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure is published by Riverhead Books (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


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