Sunday, October 27, 2013

An uncomfortable moment at an otherwise terrific event

Today I went with my girl to the Texas Book Festival.

Since it was a literary event, of course I wore a shirt promoting one of my favorite authors.

No better place than a book festival, where readers, writers and publishers are milling about, to let it be known that I am a researcher of one of America’s most endearing and enduring writers, right?

We went specifically to hear Sherman Alexie, one of my girl’s favorite authors. I have only recently been introduced to his work, through my girl, although he has been a popular, award-winning author for decades. As a Native American, he writes from that perspective. As she read his books, my girl and I, and others, would have some good conversations about culture, prejudice, and similar topics.

But somehow, I just wasn’t thinking about that when I chose my apparel. Until…
Mr. Alexie began to talk about one of his banned books.

I am strongly against censorship, and believe in the right of any/everyone to express their views.
However, as I realized I was wearing a shirt featuring an author banned for insensitivity to Native Americans to a reading by a Native American, I admit that I wished I had thought that one through a little more.
Of course it felt like Mr. Alexie looked at my shirt every time he mentioned anything related to prejudice. I know that’s not true, but it was uncomfortable anyway.

And don’t take that to mean I’m embarrassed by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was a product of her times, and it would not have been accurate for her to portray relations between whites and Indians as all hunky-dory. I just wish I had been a little more sensitive to the situation.

Other than that, I had a great time. I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Alexie, much more than I thought I would. I will be reading more of his works.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I just had to share this: Where's Papa going with that ax?

The people who think children's books can't be fine literature aren't reading the right children's books!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Wilder Rose book review and thoughts

A Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert, is a fictionalized account of the life of Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series of books. Albert draws from the correspondence between the two women, as well as the original manuscripts and their rewrites and other sources, to create a vivid account of the collaboration that resulted in the series we all know and love.

The story is told from Rose’s point of view, as she looks back and discusses her life at that time with a young protégée’, Norma Lee Ogg. As such, it is not always kind to Laura, which some fans may find unsettling; however, it is a realistic portrayal of Rose’s view as discerned from her journals and diaries. Any mother-daughter relationship is complicated, and any work relationship is complicated; a mother-daughter work relationship is doubly so, and it would be an understatement to say that things did not always go smoothly between Laura and Rose.

Albert does a fine job of portraying both Rose’s insecurities and bouts with depression, and the strong passions – personal and political - that drove her. The times we live in shape us all, and the times in which Rose lived were full of turmoil and deprivation, from her young days growing up in poverty when she felt neglected by parents who had to spend all their time and energy wresting a living to the Depression years when she began working on the Little House books with her mother.  Not only was there physical and emotional deprivation, but society - especially small-town society - imposed its own form of social deprivation (nice girls don’t do that!) which was unbearable for a young woman as eager and determined to experience life as Rose. All of the factors influenced Rose’s natural strong character and willful temperament, and Albert brings this to all light in an interesting, thought-provoking manner.

It is easy to see Rose’s influence in the Little House books when looking at them through the lens of her beliefs – those speeches in various Independence Day scenes, for example – but it is a testament to Rose’s skill as a writer that we as readers do not realize it when simply reading through.

I highly recommend A Wilder Rose to anyone interested in Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Little House books, and to anyone interested in the Depression and Dust Bowl and the way those events shapes people’s outlook on life, and to anyone interested in the process of writing and becoming published.  Each of these subjects is fascinating in its own right; the book Albert has written weaves them seamlessly into a captivating story.

Realizing the full extent of Rose’s work on the series reminds me a quote made by Anne of Green Gables: “It is never pleasant to have our old shrines desecrated, even when we have outgrown them.” (Lucy Maud Montgomery, in Anne of the Island, Ch. 1.) However, in a disclaimer I must admit that I was not as shocked as some may be when reading A Wilder Rose.

I was in the sixth grade when I discovered that there was a ninth Little House book. I had already read the first eight books several times, and was beyond ecstatic to receive The First Four Years from a friend. Most people, evidently, are immediately struck by the dissimilarities of The First Four Years from the previous books in the series, often making comments such as, “What happened to Laura’s ability to tell a story?” or even “Who are these strange people?” I did not have those jolting thoughts or feelings. I do remember particularly noticing that there was a lot more talk of money – or rather the lack of it. But I thought that’s just how grownups are, and Laura and Manly were now grownup. Of course they would be more concerned with making the farm work and the cost of things.  But I don’t recall having any inkling that there must have been a different writer/editor/something of this last book.

Fast forward about 15 years. While rummaging through the 10 cent paperback books at a garage sale, I thumbed through a copy of Let the Hurricane Roar. I had no idea who the author was, but always ready for a good historical fiction, I put it on my stack of purchases. Upon reading it, I thought “Plagiarism!” The incidents in this story were clearly stolen from the Little House series, but not done very well, I thought. To me, this book lacked the warmth – the life – of the Little House books. Then for the first time I noticed the author’s name. Rose Wilder Lane. Ah, so it wasn’t plagiarism after all, just shared family history.

I had not known that Rose was also a writer. I was intrigued, and did some research, and was surprised at how prolific of a writer she was. This is also when I first became aware of the controversy over how much of the Little House series Rose was really responsible for. Having just finished a sample of Rose’s writing that I was not at all impressed with, and being a devoted fan of the Little House books, I came down firmly on the side of ‘It can’t have been much.’

Still later, however, I was able to view some of the correspondence between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Even more compellingly, I was able to see some of the manuscripts with the changes Rose made from Laura’s writing. Through the years during this research, I have had to change my mind from “not much” to “quite a bit.”
Without the both of them, we would not, could not, have the Little House series that we have. We know what we would have: it’s right there in black and white, in Laura’s original manuscripts and Rose’s Let the Hurricane Roar. Neither reaches the heart like the finished books that they produced together.

A huge thank you to Susan Wittig Albert for allowing me an advance copy of A Wilder Rose. You can find more information on it, with ordering information, here.

Also, Marie at AllThingsLauraIngallsWilder has an excellent interview with Susan Wittig Albert here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013