As previously mentioned, last week I found myself reading books by authors I'd read before (and enjoyed). Author Wendy McClure won me over a few years back with her weight-loss memoir titled I'm Not the New Me, so I thought I'd try her new book, a memoir/travelogue titled The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. After explaining her childhood fascination with the Little House books and all things Laura Ingalls, McClure further describes her multiple trips to visit historic sites and tourist traps centering on the Ingalls mythos.
McClure is a children's book editor, and perhaps the most fun thing about this book is her obvious love for her source material.* Periodically she references parts of the Little House series that she particularly enjoyed (or is a bit dismayed by, in retrospect, particularly when it comes to the portrayals of American Indians), and how those parts really fired her imagination. Anyone who has ever remembered a beloved book (or series) from childhood will identify with her nostalgia, particularly those who read and loved the Little House books.
But also fun are her descriptions of many of the Ingalls historical sites, including the little house in the big woods at Pepin (Wisconsin), her Minnesota home "on the banks of Plum Creek," and the house in Missouri where she eventually settled with her husband Almanzo and their daughter Rose. Much of McClure's writing is also augmented with biographical tidbits from a wealth of biographies and scholarly works on Laura and her family--she clearly did her homework, which gives the story some nice heft.
But perhaps my favorite part of this memoir is how she shared her reading and travels with her partner, Chris. She did a nice job of working in his commentary, like when they discussed Farmer Boy, which, as it focused on Almanzo, was never one of McClure's favorite books in the series. But Chris liked it and told her why:
"'This book rules. This kid has the best life ever. There's a doughnut jar in the kitchen.' 'The doughnut jar really is cool,' I admitted. 'In his right hand he held a doughnut, and in his left hand two cookies,' Chris said. I knew he was reading from the book. 'He took a bite of doughnut AND THEN a bite of cookie.' He was quoting the birthday scene, where Almanzo gets to stay home from school and go sledding and wander through the kitchen double-fisting baked goods. 'That is some bad-ass action right there,' Chris said." (p. 304.)
This one was a fun read for summer. (Nonfiction beach reading, anyone?) Thoughtful but not too heavy. And it's definitely left me with the desire to read the Little House series. (I loved the part where Almanzo got to stay home for his birthday too.)
*"It's just how reading the Little House books was for me as a kid. They gave me the uncanny sense that I'd experienced everything she had, that I had nearly drowned in the same flooded creek, endured the grasshopper plague of 1875, and lived through the Hard Winter. It's a classic childhood delusion, I know, and in my typically dippy way I tended to believe that the fantasy was mine alone..." (p. 2.)