Books Read in 2016: ‘Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder | Part 1
Book Summary from Goodreads:
Pioneer Girl follows the Ingalls family’s journey through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable experiences, and the everyday people who became immortal through Wilder’s fiction. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder’s growth as a writer. Do you think you know Laura? Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography will re-introduce you to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions.
This is going to be an unusual review, as I’m going to pretty much just share the status updates I posted on Goodreads, along with the images and thoughts I posted on Facebook as I read through this tome.
As a child who loved the Little House on the Prairie TV show and books growing up—to the point that I loved wearing long “calico” skirts to play pretend pioneer in—I grew into an adult who found the person and true life history of Laura Ingalls Wilder fascinating. Over the past two or so decades, as more biographies have been published, along with collections of her other writings (articles, essays, poems, etc.), I’ve collected several volumes that shed much more (realistic) light on who she was and what her life was really like, apart from the fictionalized, highly sanitized version in the novels she wrote for children. So when I heard that the South Dakota State Historical Society was publishing LIW’s never-before-published autobiography (the memoir she wrote for her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, before fictionalizing it and turning it into the novels we know so well now) along with historical and literary annotations by editor Pamela Smith Hill and the entire team behind the Pioneer Girl Project, I knew I had to have it. It had just come out at that point—and immediately sold out the first press run. So I got on a waiting list for it. I paid full cover price for a gorgeous, oversized (9.5″ x 10.25″ x 2″) hardcover book that I waited almost six months to receive.
I immediately flipped through it as soon as I received it, so excited to finally have it. And then, believe it or not, it sat on top of a chest in my living room for over a year, untouched and unread.
Then, about a month ago, something compelled me to pick it up. I started re-reading the introduction and explanation of the methodology behind how they put the book together, starting with the five-cent writing tablets Laura scrawled her memories into, leaving her wording and spellings [mostly] in tact (surprisingly, she wasn’t a great speller!), and researching everything as they went along—from the historical details to the changes made between the original and several different possible versions of the memoir that might have been published and then, many times, to how the incidents ended up being changed/represented in the novels. And it shed a light for me on aspects of Laura and her family that I’d never known nor guessed at.
So now, as promised, here’s Part 1 of how I documented my read-through of this very special book, covering Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek:
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05/04 Pioneer Girl marked as: currently-reading
05/04 on page 59 of Pioneer Girl (14.0%): Will be reading this alongside the novels as I re-read the LHOTP books. So far, I’ve read through the parts featured in LHOTP (which actually came first in real life, when LIW was only 2-3 years old) and LHITBW. It’s great to read the historical perspectives and notes and to see how LIW actually wrote about all of this when she was doing it as a nonfiction memoir.
05/04 Little House in the Big Woods marked as: read
05/05 Little House on the Prairie marked as: currently-reading
05/06 Little House on the Prairie marked as: read
05/06 on page 65 of Pioneer Girl (16.0%): According to the annotations, the house Pa built in Plum Creek was 20×24 feet, only 480 square feet, for a family of five. Or roughly half the size of the small 2-bedroom house I live in by myself and complain about the lack of storage room. According to the assessor, the house he built “has a good roof and floor, and contains five doors and 3 windows, and is a comfortable house for a family to live in.”
05/07 On the Banks of Plum Creek marked as: currently-reading (33%)
05/07 on page 115 of Pioneer Girl (28.0%): It was interesting to read about the family’s time in Burr Oak, Iowa, from Laura’s perspective. I’d read bits and pieces about it in biographies, but those were mostly from public records or the few articles/essays Laura wrote about it for the newspapers or magazines she wrote for as an adult. I knew they were struggling financially, but not to the point that they had to sneak out of town in the middle of the night!
05/07 on page 131 of Pioneer Girl (32.0%): “Mary objected to my playing such rough games outdoors with the boys, but she could not keep me in; and once when she took both hands full of my loose, long hair and tried to hold me, I stiffened my neck and dragged her to the door where she caught some of the snowballs herself before she let me go.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder, approx. 12 years old.)
05/07 on page 151 of Pioneer Girl (37.0%): While it’s tempting to keep reading, I’m up to the point at which the Walnut Grove years end. I promised myself I’d read this alongside the corresponding novels, so it’s time to get back to On the Banks of Plum Creek.
05/07 On the Banks of Plum Creek marked as: read