I don’t think about this very often but every now and then it occurs to me that I must be the only woman in the reading population of the U.S. who did not devour the Little House books when she was a little girl. The subject came up again tonight. It comes up maybe once every two years.
A number of women were gushing over their love of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s oeuvre, and they turned to me expectantly and all I could do was say, “I read a chapter of one once in Cricket when I was little; I liked that story.” But beyond that, nothing.
When I was a little girl I owned no Little House books. I owned hundreds of books; my mother never refused to buy me a book I wanted to read, at least not that I can recall. I had a thousand stupid young adult novels and the complete Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I had every single Trixie Belden book. But I never wanted to read Little House on the Prairie, I think mostly because it was set in the country, and my reaction to the country, even as a child (and -- notably -- even as a child who spent her summers down a dirt road in New Hampshire), was, “Eh, who cares?” And my mother never suggested them to me. She never presented me with a lovely boxed set -- you know the set I mean, in the checked box -- I think probably because she had never read them either.
What's more, I grew up when Little House on the Prairie was a crazily popular TV show, and the few times I watched it, it bored the daylights out of me. Even as a kid, I preferred Barney Miller and Taxi. So I went on with my life, totally ok with my ignorance of the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The thing that made me wonder if I’d missed out was reading Laurie Colwin, who in one of her essays cites Farmer Boy as being some of the best food writing out there. She quotes a passage in which a young boy (Almanzo?) goes to some country fair and eats an absolutely ridiculous amount of food and then he draws a long breath and eats pie.
Some time around 2002 I decided to finally have a gander at Farmer Boy; I remember finding a copy at Book Trader Cafe and thinking, “Well, ok, for two bucks, why the hell not.” It sat on my shelf for a few years before I finally read it. But I did read it. And now all I can remember of it is the bit that Laurie Colwin quoted. And have I read any of the other Little House books?
No, I have not. And I feel kind of bad about this. I feel sufficiently bad about it that I am seriously considering taking the first book out from the library and having it be a book I read aloud, slowly, chapter by chapter, to my little girl, who’s now old enough to enjoy something like that. Something long and sustained. We did James and the Giant Peach over the course of a week, and she loved it. We’ve done all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggles, except (tellingly!) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm, my copy of which I cannot find for the life of me -- and I have looked.
It’s August, but this will be my New Year’s Resolution. I will try again with Laura Ingalls Wilder.