January 2016 Book Reviews

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. Copyright 2014 by Little House Heritage Trust.

 

This is the basis for the author’s Little House series. She talks about her life from her earliest childhood memories in Kansas in 1869 to her wedding in 1885. She details her family’s many journeys from Kansas to Wisconsin where they previously lived, to Minnesota, to Iowa, then back to Minnesota, and finally to Dakota Territory. She relates many anecdotes and talks about the myriad of characters her family encountered in various locations, many of whom I remember from the Little House series, although some names were changed, and some stories varied.

She also discusses the hardships her family endured including grasshoppers in Minnesota and the blizzard of 1880 in Dakota Territory, the basis for The Long Winter, Wilder’s sixth book in the series. She also explains how her older sister Mary became blind right before the family moved from Minnesota to Dakota Territory. There were other incidents not mentioned in any of the Little House books.

According to Pamela Smith Hill, the editor, the original manuscript was not broken into sections as it is now. Each part details life in each location where the family lived with several sections devoted to their life in Dakota Territory. Scattered throughout the book are footnotes with additional information about a person, place, or thing. There are also strike-throughs and other indications of editing. At the beginning of the book, the editor explains her process, and at the end are appendices and bibliographies of books, magazine articles, and Web sites.

Although I enjoyed reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story from her first person point of view, I found the footnotes and editorial insertions distracting. They interrupted the flow of the story and should have been included in a separate appendix. Maybe someday, I’ll write my own autobiography the way Laura Ingalls Wilder did. I’m sure that a hundred years from now, people will be interested in how we live today, just as we are curious about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived over a century ago.

***

On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Copyright 1962 by Roger Lee McBride.

 

This short book contains diary entries the author made in 1894 while she and her husband Almanzo and daughter Rose, who was seven years old at the time, were traveling from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri. They started their journey by covered wagon in mid-July and arrived in Mansfield at the end of August. The chapters preceding and following the diary entries are told from Rose’s point of view. She describes life before the family left South Dakota and after they arrived and were settled in Missouri. At the end, there is some biographical information about Laura and Rose.

I found the diary entries bland. They mainly consisted of a run-down of what happened when with little dialog or expression of emotion. How would it feel to leave your mother and father and friends whom you may never see again and move far away to a place where you’ve never been? Of course Laura and her parents and sisters did a lot of traveling, never staying in one place longer than a few years until they settled in Dakota Territory, so she was probably used to it. Still, I would like to have known her thoughts.

Rose’s chapters were more interesting. She doesn’t appear to have been given much credit for her part in the book. I was left wanting to know more.

***

The State We’re in by Ann Beattie. Copyright 2015.

 

From the author of Chilly Scenes of Winter, a book I read years ago in college, comes a collection of short stories set in the state of Maine, hence the title. These tales aren’t so much about the state as about the people. Three of them are about a teen-aged girl from Massachusetts sent to live with her uncle and aunt in Maine while her mother recovers from surgery. Other tales are about different people such as two writers who meet for lunch to discuss Truman Capote and a couple from Maine who vacation in Nevada and have an opportunity to watch a movie being made. Some stories have endings that are up in the air while others have more definite conclusions. Click here to learn more about Ann Beattie and her work.

This book gave me an idea for my own short story collection centered on a similar theme. I’ve written several tales that take place in Wyoming, my home state, and others that I can adapt so they appear to take place here. Once I get my memoir put to bed, so to speak, I’ll work on this.

 

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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