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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie Hardcover – 14 Apr 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Printing edition (14 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487804
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487804
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 3.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,050,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ellie on 5 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Wilder Life is many things - a memoir of growing up in late 20th century America, and also in late 19th century America; an exploration of grief and how it might turn us in different directions; a love-letter to the books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote; a funny and self-aware account of a geekish obsession.

I never read the Little House books when I was a child. I really regret this - I might also, like Wendy, have been able to feel real awe if I ever visited the many homesteads and house sites associated with Laura Ingalls' childhood. As it is, I'm pretty tempted to make a massive detour from whatever American holiday I might one day enjoy (none of the house sites are really on the way to anywhere, with all due respect to the folks who live out there) and I didn't even grow up with true respect for Pa's fiddle, or the dugout house, or paddling in Plum Creek.

What I love about the books, having come to them in adulthood, is that I feel as if I could build a log cabin, or a hewn-oak door, or churn butter, or make a corncob doll through reading the books. And what I loved about Wendy McClure's book is that I feel as if I know what it's like to visit sites made sacred from childhood reading, without having read those books as a child myself. Her prose is heartwarming and poignant and very funny - she has a deep respect for the books and for almost everyone who loves them, but it doesn't stop her from seeing the inherent humour in pursuing a geekish quest to get closer to the world of the Ingalls novels.

If you love the original books, you'll certainly enjoy this.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The "Little House" books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the 1930s, have been read and re-read by countless children and adults around the world. Moreover, the highly successful 1970s television series, "Little House on the Prairie", was based (albeit loosely) on the books.

The author of this book, Wendy McClure, talks about her childhood obsession with the "Little House" books, and how, as an adult, she visited several places in the United States where Wilder actually lived. Fans of the books will no doubt find it fascinating. I found it enjoyable and interesting, but a bit sad in parts, when she talks about being disillusioned by some of the sites she visited.

There is another book with a similar theme: "My Life as Laura" by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson. Personally, I found that book a bit more uplifting than this one. But both are pretty good.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mmisl on 31 July 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm have long loved the Little House books and like to reread them from time to time. The title of this book caught my eye, so I decided to give it a go, but admit I wasn't expecting to love it. However, the author has a brilliant writing style and is very witty. I laughed out loud quite a few times and a lot of Wendy's observations and memories of reading the LH books resonated with me. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder/Little House on the Prairie.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 113 reviews
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
A thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory Lane-- both McClure's and mine 14 April 2011
By Cathy G. Cole - Published on
Format: Hardcover
First Line: I was born in 1867 in a log cabin in Wisconsin and maybe you were, too.

Thus begins Wendy McClure's memoir of her attempt to relive her obsession with a series of children's books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, she loved the Little House books and dreamed of showing Laura the modern world. As an adult, she begins researching online, obtaining books written about the author and her family, and making pilgrimages to many of the Little House sites. Having missed the television series starring Michael Landon as a child, she watches all the episodes and finds other films based on the much-loved books.

McClure has a witty turn of phrase, as when describing Laura's arch enemy Nellie Oleson (who was actually a composite of three people) as "some kind of blond Frankenstein assembled from assorted bitch parts," and her list of things she learned from buying a dash churn on eBay is laugh-out-loud funny. She didn't stop with learning how to churn butter; she also bought an antique coffee grinder, ground seed wheat, and made bread just like Laura and her family did in The Long Winter. Throughout it all, she had the support of her husband, Chris, and that makes him a pretty special guy.

It's not necessary to be a Little House fan to enjoy this book, which is by turns thoughtful and funny. The book has a lot to say about how we react to momentous events in our lives as well as the power of obsession. However, as an older fan who read all the Little House books in hardcover and imagined herself in Laura's world, I think The Wilder Life will have special meaning for fans. As I turned the pages of McClure's books, I found myself remembering my own Little House days and what an impact those books had on my own life.
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
A series of disappointing roadtrips 29 April 2011
By LaurenBelle - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I pre-ordered this book many months ago after reading a little promo on Jezebel and loving the idea of a grown woman making her own Little House journey. I enjoyed the book but I was left with a sense that the author didnt really do enough to make it book-worthy.

McClure writes well, she is funny and full of pop-culture references and not too reverent about what some might consider sacred Laura territory. But the writing also seems a bit disjointed, jumping around subjects and full of confusing mini-chapters that dont always break up one train of thought.

My main disappointment is that although McClure travels to most of the famous sites and has a crack at butter churning - it probably didnt warrant a book. When I first read the synopsis I imagined a modern woman trying to build a whatnot, taking a fiddle lesson, trying to sew a nine-patch or a dress, buying a Godeys Ladies Book, sticking an apple full of cloves or making pancake men. Something a little more project-y and a little less travelogue-y. I know McClure made some food but the descriptions were lacking, and all the places they visited just ended up seeming like they disappointed her - which in turn disappointed me.

I loved the idea of this book, and I enjoyed the writing.. I just wish there was more substance to it. But hey, maybe I'll write my own book and try all of those things!
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Loving Laura, Living Laura 14 April 2011
By Story Circle Book Reviews - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In this new nonfiction book, Wendy McClure does a great job presenting her adventures "with" Laura Ingalls Wilder. Clever, wise, funny and insightful, her journey on the path of discovery with the Little House on the Prairie books is also an excursion of self-appreciation and understanding.

I sometimes come across unusual books that remind me of my own history. The Wilder Life is one of those special treasures. My own mother was reading the Little House series to my three sisters when she was pregnant with me. At 13, 11, and 8, my sisters were still enthralled by the novels penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When given a chance to help choose my name, 'Laura' was a resounding favorite. Knowing that backstory, I have always identified with Laura, and been proud of that bond. Ms. McClure takes the path I have often longed to take--an actual trip to the locales mentioned in the books and in other works by or about Laura. In her journey, she realizes some truths about her own relationships, and beliefs. The culminating discovery of peace and completion brings her to say to her boyfriend, "We're done with the Laura trips...I'm home."

McClure was caught in the Little House wave of the 1970's, when the nine-book set was re-issued. Writing about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books, she remembers "...the uncanny sense that I'd experienced everything she had, that I had nearly drowned in the same flooded creek, endured the grasshopper plague of 1875, and lived through the Hard Winter." It was a feeling shared by many girls, but McClure's passion for Laura's life experiences and writing continued to follow her to adulthood. She likens the place she calls the "Laura World" to Narnia or Oz--a complete world, "self-contained and mystical" and yet as real to her as her own day-to-day existence. She was determined to flesh out the real Laura, and flush out the real stories.

So McClure went on the road. Sometimes alone, often with her boyfriend, she sought out the places in the Little House books that still exist in one form or another. Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin were on the itinerary, with stops scheduled where there were annual pageants, museums and reconstructed log houses and soddies. Was the "real" Laura to be found in any of these places?

Reading The Wilder Life was both a rejuvenating and a cathartic experience for me. While it may be true that today's flurry of activity keeps most of us from reenacting yesterday, the understanding of those past experiences are, in themselves, important. It wasn't enough for McClure that she merely visits the places of meaning and importance in Laura's life. McClure wanted to reconcile the fictional Laura with the real one, to find her in places with the intention of experiencing Laura's vivacity, courage, and adventuresome essence for herself. In doing so, she reconnected to her own late mother, and found a way to walk on her own path, knowing that, "...we would know all the little houses, a bright NOW in everyone." McClure's entertaining humor, skillful writing and belief in the purpose of her adventures brings those little houses within the reach of all of us.

by Laura Strathman Hulka
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Must-Read for Girls of the 70's 15 April 2011
By Jennifer Donovan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In this book, Wendy McClure takes a nostalgic, funny, sentimental and irreverent look at all things Laura.

This book could have been a lot of things.

It could have been a guidebook that invited you to follow her adventures. It isn't, although I'm sure that the tourism industries in Upstate New York, Wisconsin, Kansas, and of course South Dakota (home of De Smet Walnut Grove), will appreciate the boost that McClure's thoughts about her own visits might give them.

It could have been a cynical and maudlin look back at the days of her youth and innocence, but it wasn't that either. She managed to take her youthful excitement and exuberance with her as she visits the Ingalls Wilder homesites and finds out about Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder. So those of us who grew up like she did in the 70's and 80's are able to remember that time joyfully and appreciate the references to our generation. For example, she says that she always saw Farmer Boy as a sort of spin-off on the series, and then goes on to admit that she knows that some fans will be dismayed by the comparison to Joanie Loves Chachi. If you're not between the ages of 35 and 45, that reference might go completely over your head, but I loved it.

These elements come together to make my favorite kind of memoir. I think of them as project memoirs (my favorite writer of these is AJ Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World). Yes, we get to know Wendy McClure -- her past, and perhaps what it is in her present and future that is driving this little project. We hear her voice (Did I mention that it is delightfully funny and irreverent and yet also sentimental?).

We find out what she learned (The Ingalls were very small people -- size-wise -- and the places they lived are even smaller than you might have imagined). And all the while, we connect with the author. She makes us yearn for a partner who would read the books, like her boyfriend Chris does. We remember our own memories of "Laura World" -- wanting to make maple syrup candy in the snow, use a pail to carry our lunch to school, and become a teacher in the same one-room schoolhouse years later.

I read this book with a silly grin on my face. I savored the fact that I have my original blue-boxed set right on my bookshelf and so that I can make plans to go back and read those books again. If you also grew up with Little House on the Prairie -- either the books or the television show because there's a fair amount in the book about "Landon World" as well -- that you will probably love this book, unless it offends you, which I guess it might if you think it improper to poke fun at LHOP, Laura, or her followers (and yes, there are a few long-skirted homeschooler stereotypes).

The mix of humor, information about a beloved children's series, and nostalgia earns The Wilder Life 5 Stars.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Satisfying and insightful for those who share a love of "Laura World" 10 May 2011
By Jane Greensmith - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the most satisfying books I've read in years--well-written, mostly funny, occasionally poignant, often insightful, The Wilder Life is to Little House mania what Julie and Julia is to Julia Child and cooking.

Basically, the author, Wendy McClure, immerses herself in what she terms "Laura World" - she journeys to all the Little House sites, tries her hand at pioneer activities such as churning butter, makes some of the dishes detailed in the Little House Cookbook (gives rave reviews to the Apples n Onions), and muses on what she is looking for by this immersion.

As someone who grew up repeatedly reading the LH series, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with feelings, observations, and questions that McClure recounts from her own childhood, adolescence, and adulthood reading LH. The scenes she describes in the books were all so familiar to me, as was her response to learning that the books were fiction and that Laura's daughter, Rose, was instrumental in the development of them.

Off and on over the years I have toyed with making a pilgrimage to all the LH sites. After reading a couple of biographies of Laura, my interest in visiting the real houses diminished because I was in love with, as McClure puts it, "Laura World." Then, a different mood would strike and I would want to see where the real Laura lived and developed into a beloved American icon. Having read The Wilder Year, I'm torn again--seeing all the girls in their period dress I think I would find a bit depressing, but being able to do what McClure's husband Chris does would be magical--i.e., when the couple is camped near DeSmet, he happens to look up and sees exactly the landscape Garth Williams depicts when Laura and Pa go to see the railroad being made--the hills, the prairie, all unchanged over the past 130 years. That would be very cool.

I think the most interesting idea in the book is that Farmer Boy, with its abundance and lack of disaster, was Laura Ingall Wilder's own fantasy world. Here's how McClure puts it:

"With all its over-the-top dinner scenes and constant allusions to the Wilder family's good fortune, literal and otherwise, Farmer Boy wasn't really the smug when-I-was-your-age sermon I'd originally made it out to be, but more a wistful dream conjured up by a woman who had spent much of her life enduring deprivation. It was a love letter to the original promise of success and prosperity that had so eluded her husband in his adulthood, when, like countless other settlers, he'd found out the hard way that farming methods from back East were no match for the dry land of Dakota Territory.

Suddenly it all made sense--Farmer Boy was Laura Ingalls Wilder's own Laura World, an ideal realm she'd imagined, a homesickness for a place she'd never been or seen."

On Goodreads, I marked that I had finished this book and had given it 5 stars, same as I have here. I felt a bit odd doing this, afterall I tend to be stingy with 5 stars, and I had to question whether I really thought The Wilder Life was equivalent to Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, The Great Gatsby, or any of the other great works of literature that I love so much. I gave it 5 stars because of the way it made me feel after reading it--that is, that I had discovered something integral about myself, what I value, who I am. Wendy McClure's journey to find out what Laura and the LH books meant to her helped me gain a better understanding of what Laura and the LH books mean to me, and at some level that's why I read and why I write. So I stand by the 5 stars.

Final note, one of the first things I noticed about the book is how it replicates the look and feel of the hardcover LH books that I acquired as a child and still have. The physical dimensions, the type face, and the layout all mimic the hardcovers I read, and even the few illustrations seem to have sprung from the pen of Garth Williams. It was a touch I particularly liked, and made me feel at home right away. Nicely done!
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