What we’re reading
Mary—Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography, ed. Pamela Smith Hill
Before she wrote the Little House Books, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography for adults. She was never able to find a publisher for it, and the manuscript remained in the Wilder archives for over 80 years. In 2014, it was published by the South Dakota State Historical Association as the culmination of the Pioneer Girl Project.
It is a stunning work of scholarship. A large book, the page size accommodates the text and adjoining notes. Based on primary sources: census data, government records, and newspapers, these notes elaborate on the characters and the incidents in the little House books. And they explore how Wilder manipulated the material in the autobiography to fashion the Little House series, now considered classics of American literature.
It’s unclear just when Wilder decided to use the autobiography as the source for the Little House books and to change the point of view from the first person of the adult narrator to that of the limited third person, telling the stories from Laura’s point of view. With that transformation, magic happened, as we see the westward journey through the eyes of the growing child. Unless you’re a student of Wilder’s works, you probably won’t want to read this book in its entirety, but if you read any of the books as a child, the next time you are in a library, look it over. There are over 125 interesting illustrations, including many photographs. Pa, by the way, doesn’t look anything like Michael Landon.
Herb—Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour
The stories about celebrities cheating to get their kids into brand name colleges didn’t surprise me. The motivation of these parents has nothing to do with seeing that their kids are well educated of course. You don’t have to go to an elite college to be well educated.
As it happens I have just been re-reading Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man. L’Amour was an extraordinarily popular writer of Western novels and short stories. He left school at fifteen in 1930, never graduated from high school, and never even thought of going to college. He read the books he found on boxcars or that had been left behind in the rooms he rented. When he saved enough money, he rented a room near a library and read until his money ran out. When the kids in his class were graduating from high school in Jamestown, North Dakota, he was in Singapore, buying a copy of Kipling’s Department Ditties from a bookseller named Muhammed Dulfalkir. He liked to recite Kipling or Robert W. Service to his bunkmates and they loved listening to him.
I used to dream of doing the same—of quitting school and educating myself. But by the time I came along, child labor laws, union rules, and my sheltered upbringing made that impossible. L’amour lists all the books he read during his wandering years, 1930–1935 and 1937. (He lost the list of the books he read in ’36.) They range from pulp fiction to Plato.
Because this book is a memoir not an autobiography, he doesn’t say much about how he became a writer, and nothing about how be became friends with the historian, Daniel Boorstin, who wrote the introduction.
L’Amour made a lot of money from the sales of his books and the movies that were made of some of his tales. Boorstin mentions that the bookshelves he designed for his ranch are like massive doors that can be swung back to reveal a second tier of bookshelves behind them. He was a nondiscriminating reader.