What Jenny's Reading

{February 1, 2015}   Review: Pioneer Girl, Pt 1: The Introduction

Happy Super Bowl…uh, Day!  Happy early Imbolc!

Okay!  I was trying to wait till I finished the book and wrote the whole review to publish anything, but it’s taking me forever so I wanted to get something up.  This is literally a review of the introductions to the book, not the story.  Hey wait, where are you going?  They were actually pretty good!

So the book starts with some essays and introductions about the project of getting the book edited and published. All that’s well and good, because I do find the process interesting. There’s a whole section about their lives when they moved to Missouri and some explanation of how Laura started writing the book, when she was in her sixties.

Of course, they have to go and RUIN THE WHOLE THING by adding a line from the very last page of the book in the introduction. Seriously, WHY ARE YOU DESTROYING MY CHILDHOOD, PAMELA SMITH HILL????

A lot of the introduction discusses the original writing of Pioneer Girl, and the attempt at publication. Laura’s daughter Rose was also a writer, with a career that originally was bigger and more prestigious than Laura’s, and Rose helped her edit her manuscript. It was rejected for publication by Rose’s literary agent. They then discuss Rose’s career, and how she essentially wrote “creative nonfiction” and seemingly helped start up that genre, which was really popular in the early twentieth century, through the sixties and seventies. But there were a lot of accusations that she was dishonest with her words, as she was supposed to be writing biographies and instead added things that never happened. She argued that she included facts – I think her point was that while the actual incidents she wrote didn’t happen, they were in the spirit of the subject’s lifetime. Personally, I think that’s splitting hairs. If you’re supposed to write a biography, you should write a biography. If you want to write a fictional account, do that and say it’s fictional.

I find all of this fascinating. To think I almost skipped the introduction to get to the meat of the book! I enjoy (if that’s the right word, really) the discussion about Rose’s apparent struggle with depression, too. Like I said so many months ago, I was looking forward to an adult story, and it looks like that’s what we’re going to get!

Laura and Rose fought about money, too; or rather, the lack of it. This was during the Depression, so that makes sense. It sounds like Laura was able to cut back easily on things during leaner times, and it was more difficult for Rose. This isn’t surprising, honestly; Laura had a lot of hard times growing up, and was used to being without, whereas Rose wasn’t so much.

The introduction also goes through the unsuccessful attempts at publication for Pioneer Girl, culminating in the writing of Little House in the Big Woods. Rose had given a short version of Pioneer Girl to a literary agency, which she’d written in third person and as more of a children’s story. The agency loved it, so Rose asked her mother to make some adjustments and make the story longer. She lied to her mother a little, too, at least by omission. She didn’t explain they were now looking at a fictional children’s story. Not that it really matters, I think.

You know, there’s nothing in the introduction about Almanzo, at least not so far. I guess because it’s going through the publication stuff, which he wasn’t really a part of. They do mention him a few times, but always in passing.

I don’t think Rose was very happy in Missouri. I CAN SYMPATHIZE, ROSE.

Okay, you guys, there is a picture of Laura in the book at this point, around the age of seventy when she was working on By the Shores of Silver Lake. She legit has NO WRINKLES. NONE. Did some sort of airbrushing or old timey Photoshop exist? This was 1937. I Google “altering photographs in 1937” and come up with basically nothing. I tried “airbrushing in the 1930s” and apparently photo manipulation has been around a long time, but it seemed to mostly be about inserting people who weren’t already there. You should check out the Wikipedia article – some of those photo insertions are pretty hilarious.

So I guess I’m just to believe she looked that freaking good at that age? After all the sun and no sunblock and worry through the Depression and other financial hardships? Just…wow. Look at this:



Anyway. It also comes out that Rose essentially mined Pioneer Girl for material for herself, as she was apparently going through some sort of writer’s block. She took episodes of things her mother had written, shaped them into fiction, and published a book with it. She didn’t tell Laura about this at all, and when Laura found out, she was pissed. But I guess it all turned out okay in the end.

It’s also pretty funny, all the times Pioneer Girl was rejected, because of the subject matter rather than the writing. Then Rose was getting letters all, hey, write something for us that talks about the American frontier, please. Geez, publication bigwigs, make up your freaking minds, am I right?

There’s talk about how Laura used Pioneer Girl in her creative process in writing the Little House series which makes me think that Pioneer Girl is sort of a bible or show book sort of thing – like where she’d look for continuity in her stories. That’s a pretty cool concept, I think. Not that it was intentional on her part, but I wonder how many writers consider doing something like that for their series – creating the world, then doing the books. I think Tolkien did?

The introduction continues that Laura decided to write her stories because she felt they could inspire people, and also because she realized that her life represented an entire period of American history. That’s deep. Like, think about your life: what do you represent? What does my life represent? Recapping things on the internet? The extreme tail end of Gen X’s general malaise and disinterest in everything?

I really hate the idea of a generation spanning so many years. Gen X started in the 1960s and ended in the 1980s. That’s too big a time period, I think. My experiences were and are vastly different than someone’s born in the 1960s. Somebody called it “Generation Catalano,” and I think that’s pretty apt.

(Seriously, Google it.)

Why are they called number 2 lead pencils? What happened to number 1?

I looked up Rose Wilder Lane because I know almost nothing about her. Apparently she was one of the founders of the American libertarian movement. Ugh. I mean, I suppose I should be impressed, with Laura being all BLAH VOTING SUCH A DRAAAAG and her daughter helping found a political thought movement. But anything associated with Ayn Rand should be heavily side-eyed, in my opinion.

To be truthful, though, the Wikipedia article I found on her made her out to be a very cool lady. Except for all those partially fictional true stories she wrote, I guess.

The most interesting part of the editorial process explanation is the revelation that there is a website called Find a Grave. Seriously: http://www.findagrave.com. It’s real. Also, they apparently have a mobile app, so you can search for dead people on the go!

My mother just contacted me to tell me a story about a girl who died recently. She was in a hammock, reading a book, and a giant tree fell on her and killed her. She wasn’t someone we knew. It was just a story my mom thought I should know. You know, we have a hammock that I like to sit in and read. Is she trying to tell me something?

Note to self: don’t get in the hammock anytime soon.

You can go visit Laura’s old house, and other various places. I probably should’ve realized that, huh? I’m not sure I’d actually enjoy visiting them, to be honest. Reminds me of when I was a kid and we’d go to various Old Timey-type villages. Did any of you have to do that? Do you remember how, for some reason, they were always in barren, grassless places, full of dirt and dust that got in your eyes and made you cough? And how it was always scorching hot, even if it was close to winter? You’d go into these old places with no air conditioning and be all, Whelp, there’s a small room with a table and some chairs, yay? Really didn’t feel like a very authentic experience, you know? And the kitschy “General Store” or whatever sold overpriced souvenirs and reproduced candy that tasted suspiciously artificial?

Maybe those were just my experiences.

Wow. Maybe I should hurry this along. We haven’t even gotten to the actual story!

At the end of all the introductions and explanations, there’s a list of books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. When I was a kid and reading these books, there was another book, what was it called? It was sort of a diary of Laura and Almanzo’s trip to Missouri, when Rose was little. It’s not listed here. I didn’t dream that shit up, did I?

Checked the books I have. I found it! It’s called On the Way Home. It’s got her name on it and everything as author, so I don’t know why it wasn’t included in this list.



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