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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie Paperback – April 3, 2012
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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.
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. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
Top customer reviews
But there were also many typos and glaring literary errors. For instance, she refers to William Holtz’s book about Rose (“The Ghost in the Little House”) as an autobiography. Really? Did Rose use the pen name William Holtz? Because if Rose didn’t write it, it isn’t an autobiography, but simply a biography. This is a mistake I suppose I could forgive except that this author’s “real” job is as… a BOOK EDITOR?!?!? Eeek!!
I also wasn’t fond of the fact that she seemed to want to toss out anything about the actual author, if it meant that it didn’t match up to the fictional books. Yes, the books are fiction (despite Rose’s protestations) - “realistic fiction”, but fiction nonetheless. Ms. McClure admits to not being interested in Laura’s Ruralist articles or in “On the Way Home”, Laura’s DeSmet-to-Mansfield diary. She also admits she wasn’t “dying to see Mansfield” because it wasn’t part of “Laura World” as she calls it… i.e. the sites depicted in the books. Yet these are all parts of the actual non-fiction parts of the LIW story.
To each her own, I suppose… some may love it.
Wendy McClure has found precisely the right job as a children's book editor. She's exuberant and enthusiastic about almost everything she does, and her excitement spills over and infects everyone around her. She was a Laura fan during her childhood, and as a thirty something set out to rediscover Laura World. In a series of short chapters, Wendy (she's too much fun to call Ms McClure) muses on the appeal of the Little House books, dips a toe into and quickly withdraws from the world of serious textual criticism, and travels to the sites of the various Little Houses in Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Along the way she meets many other Laura enthusiasts, some more disturbing than others, and generally has a wonderful time.
But Wendy also finds some time to make some personal observations. She lost her mother at a young age and often felt lonely and alienated while growing up, particularly since she had a (seemingly) more accomplished older brother to compare herself to. Laura Ingalls was her friend and inspiration and is still an important part of her life. The moments of reflection in which Wendy ponders these personal issues are among the most interesting and reflective parts of the book.
The Wilder Life is a short read but an immensely fun and moving one. Wendy can sometimes remind her readers of the most excited cheerleader at a high school football game (and I mean that in a good way, please!) but she's also a sensitive and intriguing person, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder herself.
I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK! It's been a very long time since I enjoyed a book as much as this one. I kept coming back to it, and not being able to put it down. Usually I read when I know I will have a chunk of time because once I *start* reading, I get grumpy about having to stop, but I kept finding myself MAKING TIME to read "The Wilder Life". I could slip in and out of the pages so easily and I really wanted to "slip in" as often as I could.
I'm sort of a middle of the road fan of "Little House"- I have read the series several times, watched a zillion episodes of the TV show, and spent many childhood hours pretending to be Laura and imagining what her life was truly like, and trying to find some of that "Prairie Magic" in my own life.
However, it wasn't the subject matter but the voice of the author, Wendy McClure, that kept me flipping on my Kindle (yup, read it in e-book form...) McClure is funny and awkward and honest and it shines through in her writing.
Way beyond my enthusiastic interest in the series, McClure is a tremendous fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Stemming from the memories of the hours and hours she spent enchanted and engrossed in the books, she started "The Wilder Life" as a personal project to do some more digging into the whole history of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She ordered manuscripts, hunted down historical documents and information, began looking into the story of Rose Wilder (Laura's only child), and even started traveling around the country to visit different places where the Ingalls Family spent time.
Along the way, McClure made the startling (and heartbreaking) discovery that Laura's life wasn't all fields of golden wheat rippling in the breeze- there was a tremendous amount of hardship and disappointment along the way of the Ingalls family. She also realized that the "Laura" she kept in her heart wasn't easily found in the family's history or numerous places they settled.
I was fascinated by the history in this book, including a lot of information about pioneer life, homesteading, and traveling. But what I really loved was McClure's willingness to open herself to the read (at her own expense) time and time again in the pages of the book.
I've read mixed reviews on this book, but I think the reason some people aren't receptive to it is because it's *NOT* about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, it's about Wendy McClure and her personal experience as she goes through the material, travels around the country, and interacts with many "Little House" experts. The book is about *McClure's* reaction and thoughts, McClure's travels, and McClure's emotions as she uncovers some harsh realities about not only the life the Ingalls lead, but the life Laura *chose* to live after the saga was over.
"I couldn't un-know these sad facts, that the little Half-Pint I knew and loved had become some kind of embarrassing middle-aged person who got into stupid mishaps in the big city..." - Wendy McClure
I can't recommend this book enough.