What Jenny's Reading

{August 30, 2014}   Review: Little House in the Big Woods: The Calm Before the Storm

Hi everyone!  No Swatch Saturday today, sorry.  I’m going to try to swatch what I have of the OPI India collection for next week though!

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a book, I know. Since this blog is supposed to be about reading, I thought I’d try to get back to that. After I read that there would be a new publication soon from Laura Ingalls Wilder, an autobiography called Pioneer Girl, I dug out the copies of the Little House books from when I was a kid and decided to re-read them as an adult. They were…really different from what I remembered, honestly.

The first book starts when Laura is a really little girl, about four or five. She and Ma and Pa and Mary and Carrie live in Wisconsin, in the “Big Woods” (hence, the title of the book). LIW is a really descriptive writer; when she describes the little house and the woods surrounding, I feel like I can really see it. She goes through a whole description of the house and the woods, and what life was like for them. The book starts in autumn, and there’s a whole big deal about Butchering Time, when they kill a pig.

Laura is excited, because Butchering Time means that Pa will blow up the pig’s bladder for her to play with, like a disgusting balloon. She thinks this is fun, because this is old times and fun hadn’t been invented yet. Considering her only other toy is an old corncob she turned into a doll, I think she has an unhealthy obsession with playing with her food. I’m surprised Ma allows that. They roast the pig’s tail, which she and Mary think is so awesome, but honestly all I can think is that I can’t imagine the pig’s tail is very good. Maybe it’s because I don’t really like pork? I bet it’s stringy and chewy and ugh. They love it, though. Again, fun wasn’t invented yet. I guess they were all too busy trying to not freeze to death or starve. They hadn’t heard of Publix back then.

At Christmas some family members come. Hooray! Laura and Mary play in the snow with their cousins, and then on Christmas morning they each get mittens and a whole stick of candy. Whoa! Don’t break the bank, Pa! Seriously, when little kid me read this I was all, and what else did they get? Oh, Laura got a real rag doll, to replace her dried corncob doll. That’s nice, I guess. Ma, of course, wants to make sure that Laura isn’t a selfish little brat, and makes her let the other girls hold her doll (she named it Charlotte). Mark your calendars, folks – this is the first of many times Ma forces Laura to do something she really doesn’t want to do, all by using guilt as a motivator.

After Christmas, Laura describes how awful winters are, and especially how awful Sundays are. I guess at this point they’re all observing the Sabbath, so they don’t work at all, just “rest.” Rest sounds pretty awesome, honestly, if you’re a laboring farmer or his wife, but it’s not really rest. They have to go to church, and spend hours there being pious. Then they go home, and instead of actually resting, they do Bible stuff. The kids aren’t allowed to play, which I have no idea how that was enforced other than beatings. Little kids need to move! Stupid Puritan roots. Laura’s right. This Sunday stuff is total bullshit. But one Sunday she’s able to manipulate Pa into telling her a story that has nothing to do with religion and the Bible, so that’s nice for her. The story is about how much more Sundays sucked when Pa’s father was a little boy. I think Pa secretly hates Sunday, too.

Okay. I should probably explain some stuff. Such as, Pa seems pretty cool and Ma seems like a big drag. Of course, this is Laura’s writing, and these books are based loosely on her life, so I would assume then she has a great relationship with Pa and a sort of okay one with Ma. But seriously, doesn’t Ma seem so boring? Pa at least tries to do silly stuff and let the girls play. Ma just wants them to sit around reading Bible verses or something. I don’t blame Laura for hating that.

Oh, and by the way, the next day is Laura’s birthday. Her birthday presents are better than her Christmas presents, and then Pa sings “Pop Goes the Weasel” for them with his fiddle. Then he does a racist song which I won’t be discussing.

After that, winter is becoming spring, but one day there’s a “sugar snow.” Laura thinks it’s snow made of sugar and tries to eat it, and is disappointed and embarrassed when she finds out it’s just regular snow. She says she’s happy no one saw her do it, but then decades later she wrote about it in her book for everyone to read. That amuses me. We find out that this just means that Pa’s father will be able to get more maple syrup from the trees because things are colder longer, and there will be a dance, to I guess celebrate the sugar. Well, at least they’re trying to invent fun here. The dance does seem to be enjoyable. Laura learns all about corsets and how her Ma’s waist used to be so tiny that Pa could span it with his hands. I have no idea how small her waist must have been, but geez. Her internal organs must’ve been rearranged for that! Maybe that’s why she always seems like such a sourpuss.

You know that people are actually using corsets these days for weight loss? It isn’t surprising, honestly. I had to wear a pair of Spanx all day once, and I barely ate because I wasn’t sure anything would fit in my stomach after being all squished down.  I think Spanx and/or corsets should legally be classified as instruments of torture.  Just more proof that girls are made of way tougher stuff than guys. 🙂

This is a great line: “They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.” Sure. Tell that to the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, Laura. Granted, though, I guess they ate way less sugar and got way more exercise just doing chores back then than we do now.

Going to town brings out Laura’s insecurities. She is frightened of all the wide open spaces. She hates that her hair is brown and her sister Mary’s is golden. She spends a lot of time on the hair thing. Whatever, Laura. Brunettes are awesome. Ma doesn’t help at all here, though; she tells them one morning to ask their Aunt Lotty which kind of curls she liked best, brown or golden. Okay, we all know Mary was the favorite child, but did Ma have to be so obvious about it? Of course Aunt Lotty isn’t a total dick LIKE SOME OTHER PEOPLE I KNOW BUT I WON’T SAY NAMES HERE, MA, so she says she likes them both equally. But Mary decides that’s a lie, and later tells Laura that obviously Lotty was lying, golden curls are way better than brown. Laura hauls off and slaps her sister. You know, even when I was a kid, I thought Mary was a self-righteous little asshole. So I enjoyed that. I know it’s bad that I’m all “Hell yeah hit someone!” but seriously, she’s fine. Of course she (Laura) is punished by Pa, but because Pa actually likes Laura, he then tries to make her feel a little better. Nice that one parent is attempting to keep up her self-esteem. Oh, and apparently Laura thinks brown is a “lovely color.” YOU DON’T FUCKING SAY. EVERYTHING SHE WEARS IN THE LATER BOOKS IS BROWN.

Sorry. I really, truly hate brown as a color, and I don’t know why anyone would want to wear as much of it as these people do.

The more you know: cheese is made with something called “rennet,” which is part of a calf’s stomach. And you have to kill the calf really early, so all they’d ever had to eat was milk. Cheese is like veal, people. LIKE VEAL. I Googled “does making cheese require rennet” because I thought maybe that was an old-timey thing. I guess it does, but you can use vegetable rennet and most US cheeses are made with vegetable rennet, not animal. Most. Also, apparently there are certain vegetables that are injected with cow genes to create genetically engineered rennet. You know, one of these days they’re going to inject the wrong kind of animal gene into the wrong kind of plant, and we’ll end up with some kind of monster plant beast that will destroy us all. Like Audrey II, except not from outer space. How horrifying would a tiger-pitcher plant hybrid be?

One day Pa found a honey tree, and brought back all of the honey. For dinner they ate tons of honey, which sounds a little gross, honestly. I mean, I like honey, but I can’t imagine just sitting around eating spoonful after spoonful till I was full.

There’s a creepy little interlude about Laura’s cousin Charley, who is a giant asshole and refuses to help with chores. He ended up getting stung by a ton of yellow jackets. Hilariously, the story says that Pa and his father helped Charley by getting him away from the nest, getting all the yellow jackets off him, and then they sent him into the house. On his own. Probably a couple of miles away at that point. Ha! They all agreed that Charley sucks and deserved what he got.

Laura gets really philosophical at the end of the book. “This is now.” Now couldn’t be forgotten, not like a long time ago.

I called this review “The Calm Before the Storm” because it was a pretty happy book. For the most part, things were well with the family. No one was starving and with the exception of Charley, no one was really hurt. But don’t worry! Meet me here next time for the second installment and we’ll see how much misery we can start packing in!


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