Boozy Books: Little House!

Heyo, Nerd Cactus readers! Welcome to the third in our totally-last-minute Wayback Wingding! (Yes…I really went out of my way to find an alliterative name for this celebration of our childhood favorites. I have a problem, I know.)

When I decided to open February with one of my childhood favorites, A decided that February should totally be dedicated to those books that brought us comfort as children. Now, I’ve already covered a lot of my Austen favorites (I started with Pride and Prejudice at 12). In fact, my very first Boozy Books was Persuasion because Austen really was super formative to who I am as a writer. I actually had a hard time thinking about the things I really loved as a child. I was really into the Dear America series (that one on the Oregon Trail started one of my very first historical obsessions), but not so much into the American Girl phenomenon. I liked Ann Rinaldi. I spent a goodly amount of time into C.S. Lewis before realizing I was being preached to, and then I spent many years learning to ignore the allegory before loving the books again.

A lot of the stuff my friends were reading as kids, I read later because I kept getting, “You’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time?!” And then there’s a lot of stuff I know I read, but I forgot until I started reading again. But I did notice a theme: the books I was reading over and over again were all historical in nature.

Surprise, surprise, amirite? (Apparently, that’s an internet word now. Did I do it correctly?)

Yeah. That’s right. I was super into history even as a child. It’s a lifelong obsession. (And don’t think my feelings weren’t hurt y’all didn’t enjoy my ramble on Alexander Hamilton. They were. And I expect an apology from each and every one of you…preferably involving book recommendations. My to-read list is dangerously low. Like…it’s only three stacks. This is at least Def-Con 2, guys.)

As you’ve seen from the title, I decided to go with Laura Ingalls Wilder today. I almost went with Dear America, but they’re separate books and a single drink really wouldn’t work. I mean, I can hardly recommend the same pairing for the Oregon Trail as the American Revolution or the Titanic! That would just be unfair to some of the books I loved the most in the world. Same with the books of Ann Rinaldi. But then I remembered the Little House books, and realized they were the perfect crossroad of thematic unity and popular enough that other people might actually feel nostalgic about them.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know these books? I mean, they made a pretty popular (if definitely non-canon) TV series based on them. They’re a series of eight autobiographical novels (and a ninth, The First Four Years, left incomplete at her death) written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her childhood and early adult years in the American frontier. (There is also one book, Farmer Boy, about Almanzo Wilder’s childhood.) It covers her family’s time in Wisconsin, their move to Kansas, Walnut Grove, and De Smet, South Dakota. It ends with Laura married to Almanzo and living on his claim with their daughter, Rose. (How’s that for zipping through the entire series? I can be brief if I need to be. Then again…I’m not done…)

What these books really meant to me was not necessarily the events contained. I was certainly interested in Laura’s story, and the triumphs and sufferings of her family, but what I really loved was the picture of what it was like to be a settler. Everything was a fight for the Ingalls (and the Wilders). Laura was teaching by age 15, and her first job was twelve miles away at a time when it could take hours to go that far. They got kicked out of their house on the prairie, suffered from malaria, lost their crops to locusts, survived one of the worst winters in American history, and just kept on keeping on. With every blow, they worked all that much harder. The reason Laura took that job at 15? To pay for her sister, Mary, to go to a school for the blind. Not even for herself; for her sister. To pay their bills, Pa Ingalls goes off on his own to take a job back East, and no one knows if he’ll ever return. In a spot of success, they get to sell a cow so Ma can have a sewing machine. Laura spends two months on a homestead to help some friends fulfill the requirements of homesteading. (Yeah, there were some serious rules involved in that free land from the government deal. Oh, bureaucracy…at least you haven’t left us.) And then she gets married, and she and Almanzo get to go through the unenviable process of beginning their own lives. (Actually, it’s this aspect of the story that fascinates me the most these days. Oh, how perspectives change when you’re trying to grown-up.)

I really love these books. They made a really decent primary source for what life was like for a homesteader during the latter half of the 19th century. You get to see the coming of the railroad and what that means for De Smet (and, really, for the rest of the nation), and the tumultuous relationship Americans had with the Native Americans, and how people dealt with the harshest of winters. And it isn’t a historian’s perspective, either, but just a girl’s. A personal view of the American frontier from the eyes of someone living it. Wonderful.

Now…what to drink? Something that reminds me of childhood, but with an adult twist. Something…American, so no vodka or grappa. Something hearty. Something like…bourbon hot chocolate! And, no, not just throwing some bourbon into some Swiss Miss (though I won’t judge you if you go that route b/c I’ve been known to in the past). No. I mean something like this recipe right here. Go ahead and throw some whipped cream on top of that. Or just squirt it into your mouth directly from the can. I know I used to do that as a kid still do that even unto today.

Well. That’s it. Sorry I rambled again. Oh, who am I kidding…no I’m not.

A is up tomorrow with the Shakespeare report!


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