Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Wilder Life

'The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie' 
Author: Wendy McClure

Format: ARC
Published: Riverhead Hardcover; Apr. 2011
Pages: 352
Genre: Memoir
Rating: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: Obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books about an 1880s pioneer family, children's book editor and memoirist McClure (I'm Not the New Me) attempts to recapture her childhood vision of "Laura World." Her wacky quest includes hand-grinding wheat for bread, buying an authentic churn, and traveling to sites where the Ingalls family attempted to wrest a living from the prairie. Discovering that butter she churned herself was "just butter," McClure admits she "felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time." Viewing a one-room dugout the Ingallses occupied that was "smaller than a freight elevator" prompted McClure to admit that "the actual past and the Little House world had different properties." McClure finally tells her boyfriend, "I'm home," after recognizing that her travels stemmed from her reaction to the recent death of her mother. Readers don't need to be Wilder fans to enjoy this funny and thoughtful guide to a romanticized version of the American expansion west. 

My Take: Growing up I devoured The Little House on the Prairie books. I think I read them multiple times. I always loved history and there was something about imaging life in the open plains back in the olden days that really captured my childhood imagination. Then when I entered middle school I was ripped from my beloved Seattle and forced to move to Kansas. Kansas? Who the heck lives in Kansas?! Laura Ingalls Wilder that's who! So I re-read the books all over again, this time reading the books that come after the series when Laura has Rose and they move to Missouri and they are more like letters and are kind of, well, sad. I also discovered the TV series. McClure explains that while the TV show is based on the books, that's where the similarities ends. They really have nothing to do with each other from there. Well when you don't have cable and you come home from school and at 5pm it's that or the news, well I've watched every Little House on the Prairie episode there is and I freakin' loved Half-Pint and Michael Landon as Pa, and Nellie Olson! When you are 12, specifics of whether the show is staying true to the book don't really matter. So yeah, you better believe this book was perfect for me!

When The Wilder Life begins, McClure has recently lost her mother. On a trip to clean out her home she discovers a favorite book from her childhood: Little House in the Big Woods. She decides to re-read the series and then as you can now with the internet, she goes online to look some things up, and bam an obsession begins! I totally understand how this happens and I was thrilled to be along for McClure's ride because I found the tidbits that she discovers fascinating! Also, remember how the childhood books would have random pencil drawings, of say the log cabin or a butter churn? So did this one and it made me smile with fond memories!

So McClure first decides to start small by reading everything she can about the Wilder's. She begins with all of the books Laura and Rose had written. As I've said, I read all of the books Laura wrote but it has been years since I read them, however the details came flooding back and I remember knowing that Rose, Laura's daughter, was a ghost-writer so to speak for the series we all know and love. What I didn't realize was how many people are so passionately for or against Rose and how interesting her life was. Then McClure decides to try to live the lifestyle a little. Not go off the grid or anything (although she meets those types). More like buying a butter churn and making maple candy. Interesting to note, if you should want to churn your own butter, it's a lot of effort to only have it taste exactly the same as butter  you can buy. I have discovered the same is true of cinnamon rolls (unless my grandma makes them. Those, no one can touch the delicousness!).

McClure then decides to hit the road and visit all of the sites where Laura and gang lived. I was thrilled by this. Living in Kansas as a middle schooler I didn't have much (or any say) in vacation schedules. So instead of driving to the middle of nowhere to go visit the site of Laura's home for one year, we would go to Colorado and go skiing or something. I know, poor me! McClure, however, visits all of the sites. It's fascinating to read how different they all are and the people who visit them! I find that whenever I go to a piece of Americana, I'm just as entertained by people watching as I am by the site itself but yes, I got to live out my fantasy via this book.

Bottom line, if as a child you loved this series too, then there is no way you will not get a kick out of this book! Also, if you enjoy a glimpse at Americana this book will make you smile as well. McClure's journey is one I am so glad I got to be a part of.

Cover Lust: It's simple and fit's the bill. Have they changed the design of these Little House books at all? Because they shouldn't!


  1. This book sounds like it was written with me in mind!

  2. oh, I have to read this book as I had the same obsession as a child!

  3. I am reading Little House on the Prairie with my 10-year-old now. I had forgotten how strict the parents were, and how little playtime the girls had. Or maybe I didn't even notice as a child. I am definitely going to pick this up!

  4. This sounds so fun! I absolutely loved the Little House books. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Well, I just loved the Little House books when I was little and then I got to re-read the whole series when my daughter was little. I really much get this book.

    If you haven't had a chance stop by and enter my giveaway. I think you'd really enjoy the Lisa See book and if you know anyone who like YA fantasy tell them about Wildefire:

  6. This sounds great! I've had a yearning to re-read the Little House books and currently have the first three on my TBR pile... this might be the one I read after that!

  7. I loved the shows and loved the books. This book sounds like it is right up my alley!

  8. This sounds like such a sweet and delightful book - it sounds like you really enjoyed it! :)

  9. I loved the series, I loved the books. It sure says childhood to me :D

  10. I cannot even imagine living a frontier life -- it would be the worst thing ever for me! But I'm excited to read this book, it looks fascinating and very much like it will make me want to revisit the Little House books.

  11. crap, I was just about to sit and write my review of this book and something pulled me back into bloghopping instead and landed here and what did I have to read? YOUR review. (hate when that happens, cuz it makes me even less motivated to write my own review) I suppose I could have skipped yours and immediately written mine but noooooooo. sigh. I didn't have the same love you had but then I don't think I was as nuts about LIW when I was a kid.
    btw, where in Kansas did you live?!?!?

  12. Care - I lived in Wichita, KS and hated it. Not to besmirch those who live there and love it but it was not for me!

    However, this book was!

  13. Wichita is my home town! I was there 80-83, parents are still there. Central & Maize Rd area...
    I *knew* we had a connection! ha

  14. I loved the books and the tv show growing up!

  15. yes, I compulsively read all those Little House Books when I was young, so I guess this is a must for me!


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