Mai Yamani

Wednesday reading — the rest of the little houses

What I've been reading

I finished rereading the Little House books in time for Wilder Days at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, MO. It's worth planning your trip to coincide with Wilder Days if you can swing it because you can listen to Pa's fiddle being played.

I reread On the Banks of Plum Creek. Those passages about the grasshoppers, especially when the grasshoppers start walking west with absolutely no regard for what they're walking over or into, are some of the creepiest, most effective writing ever. It's also just a much better, richer, fuller story than Rose's Let the Hurricane Roar. I wonder why she used her grandparents' real names in her first version but then made them newlyweds with a son instead of three daughters? It seems like an odd choice.

I reread By the Shores of Silver Lake. Laura specifically chose to pass quickly over the family's illness and open with Mary's blindness as a fait accompli to sort of minimize all the misery but I think it's actually a bit overwhelming presented as an infodump. As a kid as far as I can recall I was really oblivious of how dangerous their position was with those angry railroad workers. I guess I had really internalized the idea that Charles Ingalls could take care of anything.

I reread The Long Winter, which was always a favorite as a kid. As much as I admire the purity and simplicity of the fictionalized version of the story where the Ingalls family are the sole occupants of their house in De Smet, I found the true, more complicated version even more entertaining. They had this couple with a newborn living with them because their families didn't approve of the marriage and they had nowhere else to go, and they were just hilariously unhelpful while everyone else was just barely avoiding starving or freezing to death. The man in particular just gobbled their food with no apparent regard for how very precious it was, and this one time he was in such an indecent hurry that he burned his mouth and then remarked, "Potatoes do hold the heat," which became an Ingalls family catchphrase for someone being selfish and oblivious. I mean, I find that totally hilarious.

I reread Little Town on the Prairie. I always really liked the theme in this one of Laura learning to relate to people, especially her parents and Mary, from a grown-up perspective. Also the tiny kitten battling the mouse.

I reread These Happy Golden Years. I feel like in trying to write a romance appropriate for a children's audience Laura ends up sublimating and displacing all her emotions onto Almanzo's horses. I mean, I assume she was attracted to him, but it comes across like she totally just loved him for those horses. But, I mean, I just thought they were a cute couple when I was a kid, so I feel like she did a good job aiming at her intended audience.

I reread The First Four Years. I know a lot of people don't care for it and don't think it should have been published at all, or at least not foisted off on them in the guise of a real part of the series, but I always liked it. It's true that it was never harmonized with the end of These Happy Golden Years and that was always a little confusing, but it's hardly the end of the world. Fun fact: apparently, based on the Garth Williams sketches that were on display at the museum, the original intended title seems to have been The Last Four Years, which sounds like a book that would have an even more catastrophic ending.

What I'm reading now

Alexander Hamilton: A Life, because I'm having a lot of feelings about a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman (although that is actually quite unfair to his poor mother!). Thanks a lot, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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If that couple had been alive when Laura wrote the books, and she'd included them, I wonder if they'd have sued her for royalties. I could just never believe that the young able-bodied bridegroom didn't do one goddamned thing all winter other than absorb the heat from the stove.
She surely would have changed his useless ass's name like she did with Nellie Oleson. (Another fun fact: Laura still had the real Nellie Owen's name card in her collection.)