For my last book club meeting, we all read biographies – any biography. While I had enjoyed some biographies in the past (I loved David McCullough’s biography of John Adams), I don’t really gravitate toward them; usually if I am reading one it is because someone else chose it for book club. I hemmed and hawed over my choice until I spotted a book that caught my eye: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. It’s more of a memoir than a biography, but to me it was close enough to be on topic. Better yet, it was of high interest to me because it was essentially someone else talking about her reading life.
That was, in fact, the main draw for me. Almost as much as I like to read, I like to talk about reading, hear about reading, and read about reading. And discussions of childhood reading are probably my favorites. I like to know what drove other people to read what they did, and why they loved their favorite childhood books. A couple of years ago, I reviewed Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. It’s an even more direct reading memoir, and very entertaining.
It’s actually somewhat funny that I felt drawn to The Wilder Life, most notably (confession) because I did not really read the Little House books. My mom read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to me and my sister, but I never read any of the rest of them. Most of my Little House love came courtesy of Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon, because I loved the TV show. Yes, I know there was actually no Albert and that no one really blew up the town of Walnut Grove. And actually, now that I know more about the books and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life courtesy of Wendy McClure, I realize that the books really sugarcoated some things, too.
So McClure’s reading journey was not really like my own, but was nonetheless of high interest. In her memoir, she decides to recapture her Little House reading life (or as she calls it, her “Laura World”) by visiting every place the Ingalls family ever lived, both the nearly forgotten places and borderline theme park-y ones. She also seeks out authentic experiences, churning her own butter, spending a night in a covered wagon/tent (during a scary storm, no less), and buying more than one bonnet. The highlight of the book for me was actually the hilarious passage when she drags her husband on a homesteading type weekend, thinking they will learn old school housewifery skills – and finds out that they have wandered into a den of religious fanatics who are preparing for the end of days. That alone would have made the book for me.
But when it comes down to it, I just like to hear about other people’s reading experiences. A whole book’s worth is solidly entertaining for me. And I guess that just makes sense; I’ve been assuming for the last decade and a half that everyone wants to hear about what I read. What about you? Do you like to read about reading? Do you have any good reading memoirs to recommend? And (dare I ask?) were you a real Little House fan?
– Blythe Barnhill