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Review: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 27, 2011 8:20PM

The Wilder Life is written by local author Wendy McClure.
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie is not about an author who dons calico and sun bonnet, escapes to a deserted log cabin and speaks to the ghost of Laura Ingalls Wilder. While Wendy McClure did try her hand at churning butter, baked long winter bread from scratch per the The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories recipe and did accumulate quite a few sunbonnets as she journeyed to the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, she wasn’t out to glorify anything about the simplicity of a time when butter and bread could not purchased from Trader Joe’s.

Instead, The Widler Life is McClure’s fangirl exploration into the world of Laura Ingalls. She shares interesting tidbits she discovered reading all the Laura Ingalls Wilder biographies and rubs elbows with other Little House fans on covered wagon rides, inside museums and gift shops and at Laura Ingalls Wilder plays and lookalike pageants. While visiting Little House homesites might seem like a particular sort of obsession to throw oneself into, more people are doing it than you’d think. The popularity of Little House on the Prairie television series in the ‘70s sparked a mini tourism industry around the sites where Laura Ingalls and her family lived.

Those who watched the show or read the books will appreciate revisiting key Little House events and places. And readers not familiar with Laura Ingalls can still enjoy The Wilder Life, too. Anyone who has considered revisiting one of their childhood obsessions can. McClure does not alienate readers who are not schooled in Laura world. She wins over readers regardless of their own personal Laura connection with her sense of humor and frequent eye rolls at folks she meets who are a bit too into Laura Ingalls; the when-the-world-ends-thank-the-Lord-we-don’t-need-the-rest-of-civilization farmer people are a bit much for McClure, as are the Laura fans who love the Ingalls family’s Christian values (they weren’t even that Christian, McClure points out. They were just good people with values). And, McClure admits that the whole butter churning thing wasn’t all that she hoped it would be. It was an exhausting process, and the butter tasted exactly the same as grocery store butter, she admits.

But, discovering that churning butter is anticlimactic isn’t the point of The Wilder Life. “The story of the Little House books was always a story of looking,” says McClure, and so is her own personal story. She’s not trying to become Laura Ingalls; she’s trying to rediscover the magic of the books that she felt as a child with a few key things she didn’t possess as a child (such as the freedom to plan her own vactions, money to travel, the ability to drive a car). In The Wilder Life McClure brings her readers on a journey in which she discovers the lost world of Little House on the Prairie as untarnished and delightful as it ever was, despite the pieces that have rusted, disappeared or been replaced with time.

Upcoming events:
Thursday, April 29: 6:30 PM at The Bookstall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL
Tuesday, May 3: 7:00 PM Anderson’s Bookshop 123 W. Jefferson Avenue, Naperville, IL