Have you ever connected with someone through a mutually loved book? Of course, there are many ways to love the same book, but some books inspire a similar kind of devotion in their fans. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series seems to call forth reverence for their author and protagonist, Laura, and a persistent yearning to enter her world. Thousands of Laura fans embark each year on their own searches for the historical Laura, visiting the sites and homes where the Ingalls and Wilders lived.
Wendy McClure has written The Wilder Life, a funny, insightful memoir about her adventures pursuing "Laura World"—the partly historical, partly fictional, partly fantastical mental space she inhabited as a child and revisits by re-reading the books, researching the history of the Ingalls and Wilder families, and traveling to their every homesite. Along the way, McClure, a Chicago-based children's book editor, purchases a half-dozen bonnets and attempts to recreate the "vanity cakes" Ma made in Little House on Plum Creek—a recipe for which begins, "take 2 pounds of lard," among other things. Throughout, McClure is trying to figure out why these books, more than any others, so captured her imagination in childhood as well as adulthood.
For readers like me, who dreamed of being Laura or Laura's best friend, who longed for pinafores, butter churns, and the occasional blizzard, McClure's journey will elicit laughter and some new reflections on why, exactly, Laura's stories have held readers in enduring enchantment. Even as each of us imagines the worlds of Laura's words differently, many seem to share a fascination in the real world (now mostly lost) and real people (now all dead, and with no living descendants) behind the ...1
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