Monday, October 5, 2009

Mary on the Prairie

In the most recent episode of the radio show This American Life, the subject was books that changed people's lives. One segment was called Little Sod Houses for You and Me and featured a New York woman who traveled to DeSmet, SD, on the trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

It brought back happy memories of the time our family spent with Ma and Pa and the girls. Abbie discovered the books when she was about four and called all nine of them "Mary on the Prairie." (She favored Mary over Laura. Probably because Mary got in trouble less often.) We read them for our nightly bedtime story for a few months, learning about the details of frontier life as we went along -- how to dig wells or build a door with a leather latch.

I found them a bit tiresome, to tell the truth. Especially The Long Winter, which seemed to pass almost as slowly as the actual winter in question. There wasn't enough of a story arc for me, and the basic plot was the same in every book. But we had such fun reading them together. We came to care for the people -- Mr. Edwards was a favorite -- and Abbie had special parts she wanted read over and over.

Howard and I thought there should be a book of Ma Ingalls' homilies, since she was always offering plain homespun advice. I just searched for Ma quotes and found an inactive blog called What Would Ma Ingalls Do? It offered this quote:
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care.
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.

~Caroline Ingalls
Nov 1881

Editorial Anonymous wrote about the Little House books and other classics recently, too, in response to a reader who noted that they have no plot. Basically, she said writers today shouldn't expect to get away with having no plot.

For my own sake, I'm okay with that. I like plot. I don't especially want to read plotless books and certainly don't intend to write them. At least, not on purpose.

But if Abbie and this woman Meghan from New York and thousands of other kids are entranced by the Little House books, isn't that an indication that rules like that are too limiting? That more kinds of books should be getting published?

I'm just saying...