Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure

I don't suppose the idea of writing a book called The Montgomery Life or My Obsession With Anne would roll off the tongue and be instantly appealing as the sound of The Wilder Life. (I don't know. Maybe it would be? I wonder if I could be paid to retrace all of Montgomery's steps?) Author Wendy McClure really hit on an interesting idea for a book. The subtitle is called My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie which makes it sound sort of like a reality-based television show on paper. That is, in fact, what I assumed it was. I assumed (correctly, I might add) that it was a story about a woman who really, really, really liked Laura Ingalls Wilder and wanted to dive into her world. I should note that I was mostly correct in my guess as to what the book was about.

Wendy McClure really does like Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Wilder Life opens with McClure explaining that as she was growing up she obsessed (to some degree or another) over the Little House books and always felt in some way as if she was Laura. She imagined herself describing the modern world to her old fashioned friend-and-other-self and would imagine herself living on a prairie. When she was all grown up, having made the decision not to have kids of her own, she and her boyfriend decide to tour all of the sites which made up "Laura World" in her imagination. This book is a telling of her adventures exploring the various homes in which Laura lived and some of the history behind the Little House books. We travel with McClure to museums, we find her purchasing countless bonnets and attempting to make butter in an old-fashioned churn while watching episodes of the television version of the show. (Just to be clear, she views the Little House tv series to be a piece of fiction. She's far more gracious in accepting the show though than I am in accepting the third Anne movie. That movie, you know, is nothing but heresy.)

Really, this is a "reality show" in book form. It is a story of McClure's search to know a character that she closely identified with as she was growing up. She isn't writing the book to give us a history of Laura, times past or give us detailed instructions on how you go about twisting hay appropriately in order to keep your house heated during a long winter. It is just a meandering through her experiences and impressions as she visited various Little House locations and how her thoughts about Laura evolved over her explorations. In one sense it is an informative read because it comes across very much as a travel memoir. I could see the prairie as she described it. I could hear the rain pounding on the car roof as she drove through Kansas. (Wait. I live in Oregon. That might have been the rain on my own metal roof I heard. In my own little log cabin that I live in.) While I did learn more of the history of the Little House books, the facts were not incredibly detailed but McClure did not mean for them to be. Once again, she is merely sharing her journey into her own "Laura World" and finding that reality didn't always match up to her imaginations.

Truthfully, I'm not over-the-top crazy about The Little House Books. I mean, I like them and all. I enjoy them and I was very glad to recently re-read Little House in the Big Woods (linked to our experience) to my oldest son. That was a blast! I also look forward to re-reading the rest of the series with my children in time. But Laura Ingalls Wilder is not my Lucy Maud Montgomery. So I don't feel an incredible attachment and therefore I didn't feel incredibly disillusioned by the facts which McClure does relate about the books and the Ingalls family within the pages of her own book. Mostly I was interested in The Wilder Life because I like the idea of someone loving a book or a series so much that they explore actual physical locations and learn about different customs and history surrounding their loved book of choice. I think that's just plain awesome and that is what drew me to McClure's book in the first place.

While I liked the idea of McClure's passion for Little House, we do have distinctly different world views. I was rather put off by her use of foul language all throughout the book. (I mean, really? Must we?!) She also takes advantage of wielding a pen to drop in notes about supporting the legalization of gay marriage. (In a book about the Little House series? I just don't think any reader is reading this book to find out where she stands on a variety of political or moral issues. At least, I wasn't.) She lives with her boyfriend and talks about that a lot as well. Strangely (to me) she focuses on how weird it is to pursue information and experiences with Laura via computer and modern technology. I think it's also a little weird she would spend so much time talking about her live-in boyfriend and gay marriage when talking about Little House. (She did latch on to the fact that she didn't like Rose Wilder Lane's political stances so perhaps she felt justified in sharing her own, being that she found Rose to be a bit over the top. Perhaps it's just about expressing herself. At any rate, I found it distracting. I read the book for other reasons.)

Because I think this book is more "reality show" like than about providing historical information, I'd probably not go about recommending it. I think it's too lax on facts and too filled with paragraphs about rental car experiences and that didn't excite me a great deal. I read it in full, however, because I don't really mind reality shows. (They really help you to get to know people. Well. Sort of. Maybe. I'm going to quit talking and not even attempt to defend my last sentence there.)

As I had mentioned in the recent past, I had received a copy of this book for Christmas and had planned to read it during Barbara's Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge in February. Then came the house "fire" and I lost my copy to smoke damage. I intended to replace it eventually when I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the newly released paperback edition of this book. Marvelous timing! It arrived on Monday and I devoured it instantly. Yes, I did devour it even though I can't say it is going on a top favorite list. I'm still grateful to Riverhead Books for shooting a copy of this one my way!

For additional options on this book, check out Barbara at Stray Thoughts said HERE. You might also be interested to know what Amy at Hope is the Word had to share. Jennifer reviewed it over at 5 Minutes for Books and gave it 5 stars. While I can't give it that, I do agree with Jennifer that the book is kind of funny. Barbara and Amy weren't as impressed with McClure's sense of humor (or "snarkiness") but I confess that I rather got a chuckle out of it. That might also be one of the reasons I read it 'till the end. Whatever her belief systems, I did think she was funny.


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Hey! Thanks for the link! :-) Yeah, you and I felt similarly.

On an unrelated note, I just read my first Jeeves story and I am in love. :-)

Barbara H. said...

Thanks for the link here as well. I was looking forward to your thoughts on this.

I thought it was odd to spend so much time in the book on her relationship and politics/morals as well -- I don't know why I didn't mention that, especially the latter, in my review, except to say that she wrote from "a secular, non-conservative, 'postmodern' viewpoint. It was interesting looking at LIW's life through those eyes, since most of the people I know who really like her are conservative Christians. I was surprised that Wendy found so much common ground with Laura -- I think she was surprised to find as an adult that maybe it wasn't as much as she had thought.

I did think she was funny in places -- I didn't think all the humor was snarky, but some was.

I thought her boyfriend was a good sport to get involved in all of this with her. I did read on her web site a while back that they got married.

Unknown said...

Like Barbara -- I am surprised that I didn't mention some of the content -- specifically the language (which I don't remember to be pervasive, but I was surprised).

I think that I was just so caught up with how much I liked it. I did like her sense of humor and felt such a kinship with her childhood memories of LIW.

And I think you should get started on Carrie at Green Gables ;)

Stephanie said...

I bought this on Kindle a while back and never finished it. Now, I kinda want to go back and finish it (and kinda not). : )

I did really love the books as a girl and so for that reason I think I want to finish her book. Seeing the LIW homes is a bucket list item someday, hopefully with my girls. :)

Annette Whipple said...

Good to hear another opinion. I have the audio version, but have about 15 hours of Little Women remaining before I can listen to it...and with the warning of foul language, I'm not sure when that will happen.

I decided I want to "read" it, but not to invest a week doing so...since it is more about the process and less about LIW.

Carrie said...

@Jennifer - Carrie at Green Gables. LOL! I love it! (My brain is spinning.)

@Amy - YAY for WOOD-house. ;)

@Barbara - Yes, the back of my book jacket indicates they did get married. I should have said that in the review. Thanks for pointing that out! And I also want to point out that I thought Chris was a remarkably good sport and incredibly supportive of Wendy in her search for Laura World.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I find it irritating when authors try to piggyback on the success of others. Presumably, nobody would care about her and her political viewpoints, except that she name dropped Wilder, enabling her to sell the book. If you are going to write about a famous author (or historical personage), make the book about them, not yourself. (I complained about this in a different context regarding Norman Leibrecht)

Jennifer said...

I'm one of those odd persons who doesn't mind watching reality TV shows just to see how other people (supposedly) live. This sounds pretty interesting to me, but I'm tiring of books with foul language (even the ones that have good stories), as I've gotten quite enough of that in school this semester.

I've only read the first few books in the Little House series, and that was several years ago. My family used to watch the TV series all the time, and, though I liked the shows when I was young, I can barely stand to watch them now (something about the acting, the drama, the one hundredth hour of hearing Mrs. Olsen whine). It's funny how your opinions of things change as you get older.

Back to the whole reason for me commenting... I very much enjoyed reading your opinion. Maybe I'll consider reading The Wilder Life one day. (I would love love to read My Obsession With Anne, however.)

A Faithful Journey said...

So disappointing about her use of foul language throughout. Why do authors feel the need for that?? I was looking forward to reading this someday, but now may just pass over it altogether!

Thanks for the review! :)

BerlinerinPoet said...

Loved the Wilder books, but not quite that obsessed. So, I would have found this interesting aside from the foul language and political talk (who needs that?).
I'll probably skip this one, but I think you might be on to something with that "getting paid to retrace the steps of your favorite author." I wonder if this would work for all of us. Hmmm...

Elisabeth said...

This sounds like exactly the sort of book I'd like to read. I enjoy travel memoirs and like the author I grew up identifying with Laura. I have very fond memories of my mom reading the whole series out loud to us and making my sister and I bonnets and prairie dresses. I am actually now very excited to download (Don't un-friend me!) this book!

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