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

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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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What I Read in May

Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert. Copyright 2009 by Half Pint Enterprises. Published by Simon Spotlight Enterprises, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

 

I first thought this book would be about the author’s experiences starring as Laura on Little House on the Prairie, but it’s not just about that. It’s Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography from her birth until 2009 including photographs.

She describes what it was like to learn as a child that she was unwanted, given up for adoption at birth. She emphasizes the fact that she was taught to hide her feelings and pretend everything was okay during her parents’ divorce, her mother’s re-marrying, her father’s death, and other heartbreaking events during her life. She talks about being involved in Gun Smoke and other movies before she signed on to the cast of Little House on the Prairie.

During her ten years on this television series, she gives detailed descriptions of filming certain episodes, describing how Michael Landon, who wrote and directed the series and starred as Pa, became a surrogate father to her, the irony of how she developed a close friendship with the actress who portrayed Nellie, the nasty little girl who goes to school with Laura, and how she didn’t always get along with Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Laura’s older sister Mary. She also discusses her involvement in The Miracle Worker, The Diary of Ann Frank, and other projects during this time. At the end of those ten years, she explains how Michael Landon wrote the last episode in which the town of Walnut Grove is destroyed to get back at NBC executives for canceling the show.

After Little House, Melissa Gilbert describes the myriad of movies and television programs in which she was involved. She also talks about her relationships with Allan Greenspan and others, her failed marriages to actor Rob Lowe and playwright Bo Brinkman, and her marriage to actor Bruce Boxleitner, and the birth of her two sons, Dakota and Michael. She also talks about saying goodbye to Michael Landon when he was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away. She discusses her law suit against The National Inquirer over a story they printed that was fabricated by Bo Brinkman and how the stress caused her to give birth to Michael prematurely.

Melissa Gilbert also describes how she became the president of the Screen Actors Guild during the earlier part of this century. She discusses her bout with alcoholism and her work with terminally ill children. She ends the book by describing how she played Ma in a musical production of Little House on the Prairie in Minneapolis and visited Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and Desmet, South Dakota, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent part of her life.

Reading this book made me realize that the Little House television series sensationalized Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story. Melissa Gilbert’s fans coveted her idyllic Laura Ingalls Wilder life, but Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life was far from idyllic, and although Melissa Gilbert’s family wasn’t battling blizzards, drought, and grasshoppers, she still had her demons.

 

A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. Edited by William T. Anderson. Copyright 1988 by the University of Nebraska Press.

 

This is a collection of essays, poems, and short stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane that appeared in various magazines during the earlier part of the 19th century. Presented in chronological order, much of this work, not contained in Laura’s Little House series, covers her life growing up, her journey with her husband Almanzo and Rose from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri, and her life on Rocky Ridge Farm once they were settled in Missouri. This collection also includes some short fiction by Rose that was inspired by their experiences. The editor introduces each piece, and in an epilog, he provides additional information about this mother and daughter’s careers, and of course there are pictures.

I found some of the pieces boring, especially Laura’s articles about her kitchen and dining room on the farm. Others were fascinating. To my astonishment, I learned that Laura’s sister Mary’s blindness was caused by spinal meningitis, not scarlet fever, as indicated in the Little House books. I was interested to read a conversation between Rose and her father about the price of furniture, horses, and farm implements in 1878. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series as a child.

 

Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern Copyright 2005

 

This is the story of love between two friends in Ireland, a love that withstands many years of separation. The author tells it in an unusual way through notes passed in school, letters, e-mail and text messages, newspaper articles, and other documents. Alex and Rosie go to school together as children in Dublin and become best friends. In their last year of high school, Alex’s family moves to Boston, Massachusetts, but he and Rosie still keep in touch over the years and visit each other occasionally. When they graduate, Alex is accepted to Harvard, and Rosie plans to attend Boston College to study hotel management. However, when Alex is unable to return to Ireland to accompany Rosie to the last dance of the school year, she is compelled to go with Brian, another boy in her class. They have a one night stand, and when she gets pregnant, he leaves town.

Rosie cancels her plans to go to college, has a daughter, Katy, works at a string of dead end jobs to make ends meet, marries Greg, and divorces him several years later when she finds him cheating on her. She eventually gets her degree in hotel management and opens a bed and breakfast near the beach. On the other hand, Alex becomes a successful heart surgeon in Boston, marries and divorces twice, and has two children. After almost fifty years, Alex and Rosie are together for good, their romantic dream a reality.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t want to finish this book. First of all, I found all the note passing and text messaging unrealistic. Yes, children pass notes in school, but at the fast and furious rate these messages seem to be flying, it’s a wonder Rosie and Alex didn’t get caught more often. As an adult, Rosie texts her family and friends constantly while at work. I was afraid that at any minute, her boss would catch her, and she would lose her job. She is fired once, and that could have been the reason. I’ve never known anyone who texts as often as Rosie and other characters do. I would have liked to see more narrative mixed with messages.

Then, there’s Rosie’s attitude. When she becomes pregnant with Brian’s child, she blames Alex for not being able to come to the dance, thus forcing her to go with Brian and then to sleep with him and become pregnant with his child. I kept thinking that she didn’t have to have sex with Brian, or she could have decided not to keep the baby and go on with her life. When she discovers Greg is cheating on her and decides to move to Boston so she can re-kindle her relationship with Alex who is divorced from his first wife, she receives a letter from Brian, living in Spain, who wants to get to know Katy. She decides to stay in Ireland for that reason and blames Alex for that, too. I wanted to tell her that she could have moved to Boston, and Brian could have just gotten to know Katy there. Then, I wanted to delete the book from my device and not give it another thought, but after some serious consideration, I realized that I wanted to know how it ends, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I like the epilog, a narrative told from Rosie’s point of view, in which she and Alex come together, both free, both ready to love each other.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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