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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie Hardcover – April 14, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Exclusive: Gretchen Rubin Interviews Wendy McClure

Gretchen Rubin Gretchen Rubin started her career as a lawyer, and she was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor when she realised she really wanted to be a writer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters. Rubin is the author of several books, including The Happiness Project.

Gretchen: If you had to pick the one scene from all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books that makes you the happiest, what would it be? I'd pick the scene where Mr. Edwards brings back the Christmas gifts to Laura and Mary, after he meets Santa Claus in Independence. I cry every time! Or maybe when Laura tells Almanzo that she won't go buggy-riding with Nellie Oleson again.

Wendy: For me it’s when the Ingalls family moves into the “wonderful house” in On the Banks of Plum Creek. The rooms are clean and new, with store-boughten hinges and china knobs on the doors, and everything is in its place. Every time I read it, I swoon over the details, from the calico-edged curtains to the smell of the pine boards. A close second is the scene where Laura gets to see the surveyors’ house for the first time in By the Shores of Silver Lake.

Gretchen: Why do you think the Little House books have meant so much to you for so long?

Wendy: I think it’s because the point of view is at once so subtle and vivid that it feels like I’m in Laura Ingalls’s head, looking with her eyes. I learned so much about how to see from these books, which in turn helped me learn to observe and think like a writer.

Gretchen: Now that you've had all those adventures and written your own book about LIW, do you feel differently about Wilder and the books?

Wendy: In some ways, yes. I’m able to separate the real Laura Ingalls Wilder from her fictional counterpart and see her in ways that my childhood vision of her didn’t allow for. I also now see Laura’s daughter, Rose, as part of the books because she contributed so much to them. At the same time, the world of the books hasn’t changed much in my mind. Even when I’ve seen the actual sites where the books take place, my imagined version of those places is just as real to me as it’s always been.

Wendy McClure

Gretchen: Having written The Wilder Life, you must be approached constantly by people who are also ardent Laura Ingalls Wilder fans. Do you feel an instant connection to them, or is it a bit hard to relate to everyone's strong emotions about her work?

Wendy: I feel more connected to other fans much more than I ever did when I was younger. As a kid, my relationship to Laura and the books was so solitary—I didn’t really know anyone else who loved the books. So when I started to meet and talk to others about the book, it took a little getting used to at first, because everyone’s fandom is different (some people really love the TV show, others consider it sacrilege); but I’ve since found that one of the best things about writing this book is being able to take part in this shared passion.

Gretchen: How in the world do you come up with those hilarious Twitter comments as @HalfPintIngalls? Brilliant. My favorite so far: "Hey Almanzo, if you liked it then you should’ve built a shanty on it."

Wendy: It takes longer than you’d think! I try to take advantage of the seasons and think, what would Laura be tweeting about this time of year? (Thanks to The Long Winter, it’s never too early or late in the year to complain about twisting hay!) I also go through the Little House books in search of inspiration. It helps that HalfPintIngalls doesn’t tweet too much...after all, she has to walk two miles into town to send her posts from the Twittergraph office!

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (April 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487804
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487804
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Wendy McClure is a columnist for BUST magazine and a children's book editor. Her essays have appeared in the The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Sun-Times, and in numerous anthologies. She was born in Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and now lives in Chicago with her husband, Chris, in a neighborhood near the river.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First Line: I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too.

Thus begins Wendy McClure's memoir of her attempt to relive her obsession with a series of children's books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, she loved the Little House books and dreamed of showing Laura the modern world. As an adult, she begins researching online, obtaining books written about the author and her family, and making pilgrimages to many of the Little House sites. Having missed the television series starring Michael Landon as a child, she watches all the episodes and finds other films based on the much-loved books.

McClure has a witty turn of phrase, as when describing Laura's arch enemy Nellie Oleson (who was actually a composite of three people) as "some kind of blond Frankenstein assembled from assorted bitch parts," and her list of things she learned from buying a dash churn on eBay is laugh-out-loud funny. She didn't stop with learning how to churn butter; she also bought an antique coffee grinder, ground seed wheat, and made bread just like Laura and her family did in The Long Winter. Throughout it all, she had the support of her husband, Chris, and that makes him a pretty special guy.

It's not necessary to be a Little House fan to enjoy this book, which is by turns thoughtful and funny. The book has a lot to say about how we react to momentous events in our lives as well as the power of obsession. However, as an older fan who read all the Little House books in hardcover and imagined herself in Laura's world, I think The Wilder Life will have special meaning for fans. As I turned the pages of McClure's books, I found myself remembering my own Little House days and what an impact those books had on my own life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I pre-ordered this book many months ago after reading a little promo on Jezebel and loving the idea of a grown woman making her own Little House journey. I enjoyed the book but I was left with a sense that the author didnt really do enough to make it book-worthy.

McClure writes well, she is funny and full of pop-culture references and not too reverent about what some might consider sacred Laura territory. But the writing also seems a bit disjointed, jumping around subjects and full of confusing mini-chapters that dont always break up one train of thought.

My main disappointment is that although McClure travels to most of the famous sites and has a crack at butter churning - it probably didnt warrant a book. When I first read the synopsis I imagined a modern woman trying to build a whatnot, taking a fiddle lesson, trying to sew a nine-patch or a dress, buying a Godeys Ladies Book, sticking an apple full of cloves or making pancake men. Something a little more project-y and a little less travelogue-y. I know McClure made some food but the descriptions were lacking, and all the places they visited just ended up seeming like they disappointed her - which in turn disappointed me.

I loved the idea of this book, and I enjoyed the writing.. I just wish there was more substance to it. But hey, maybe I'll write my own book and try all of those things!
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Format: Hardcover
In this new nonfiction book, Wendy McClure does a great job presenting her adventures "with" Laura Ingalls Wilder. Clever, wise, funny and insightful, her journey on the path of discovery with the Little House on the Prairie books is also an excursion of self-appreciation and understanding.

I sometimes come across unusual books that remind me of my own history. The Wilder Life is one of those special treasures. My own mother was reading the Little House series to my three sisters when she was pregnant with me. At 13, 11, and 8, my sisters were still enthralled by the novels penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When given a chance to help choose my name, 'Laura' was a resounding favorite. Knowing that backstory, I have always identified with Laura, and been proud of that bond. Ms. McClure takes the path I have often longed to take--an actual trip to the locales mentioned in the books and in other works by or about Laura. In her journey, she realizes some truths about her own relationships, and beliefs. The culminating discovery of peace and completion brings her to say to her boyfriend, "We're done with the Laura trips...I'm home."

McClure was caught in the Little House wave of the 1970's, when the nine-book set was re-issued. Writing about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books, she remembers "...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 was a feeling shared by many girls, but McClure's passion for Laura's life experiences and writing continued to follow her to adulthood. She likens the place she calls the "Laura World" to Narnia or Oz--a complete world, "self-contained and mystical" and yet as real to her as her own day-to-day existence.
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Format: Hardcover
In this book, Wendy McClure takes a nostalgic, funny, sentimental and irreverent look at all things Laura.

This book could have been a lot of things.

It could have been a guidebook that invited you to follow her adventures. It isn't, although I'm sure that the tourism industries in Upstate New York, Wisconsin, Kansas, and of course South Dakota (home of De Smet Walnut Grove), will appreciate the boost that McClure's thoughts about her own visits might give them.

It could have been a cynical and maudlin look back at the days of her youth and innocence, but it wasn't that either. She managed to take her youthful excitement and exuberance with her as she visits the Ingalls Wilder homesites and finds out about Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder. So those of us who grew up like she did in the 70's and 80's are able to remember that time joyfully and appreciate the references to our generation. For example, she says that she always saw Farmer Boy as a sort of spin-off on the series, and then goes on to admit that she knows that some fans will be dismayed by the comparison to Joanie Loves Chachi. If you're not between the ages of 35 and 45, that reference might go completely over your head, but I loved it.

These elements come together to make my favorite kind of memoir. I think of them as project memoirs (my favorite writer of these is AJ Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World). Yes, we get to know Wendy McClure -- her past, and perhaps what it is in her present and future that is driving this little project.
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