Welcome back, readers! As you can see, I have not abandoned you. After we went two weeks without posting, you probably assumed we had fallen off the face of the internet again. Nope! I’m still here, and I still think enough of myself that I’m willing to paste my thoughts on the internet. Or something to that effect, I guess.
I mentioned last time that posts wouldn’t be as regular as they were before. That’s because I don’t want to get myself set up to fail again, forcing myself to churn something out even if I really have nothing to say. But I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading a book that… well, let’s just say, even I needed a drink. That’s not bad thing, by the way. The book is engrossing, well-researched, and definitely not as dry as many of the history books I’ve had to read over the years. It’s just the subject matter.
If you’re like me, you’ve read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. You may even have watched the show (which, fun fact, was more about Michael Landon’s chest and bottom than anything else). This paean to American ruggedness and self-sufficiency and never giving up no matter how bad things get is sort of a staple for kids–and a rather beloved part of many adults’ literary lexicon.
This book tears that right up to pieces. So if you really don’t want to find out that Laura Ingalls Wilder was kind of a terrible person and her daughter was one of the founding mothers of the current Libertarian movement (and the… she’s the worst, people), maybe don’t read this. I know I didn’t go in expecting the sort of cognitive dissonance that allows people to think they’re the exception, but there you have it.
Almonzo remains alright, though. So just hold on to that while you read.
The book is Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of LAURA INGALLS WILDER by Caroline Fraser. And it is something. I don’t want to delve too deeply into it, but it’s very much about the myth of the American farmer and how Wilder (in conjunction with her terrible, terrible daughter) contributed to it. It begins with a recounting of what actually happened during the events of the books (like, for example, how Wilder completely omitted entire sections because they made her father look bad–he skipped out on a lot of debts, people), and then it follows the later years as Wilder (and her terrible, terrible daughter) leaves the Dakotas and eventually ends up in a Sundown Town (oh yeah, the racism is strong in this book, folks) in Missouri. While one can sympathize with the way Wilder used her writing to FINALLY pull her family out of poverty, it’s hard to sympathize with the fact that she buys into and sells the bootstrap fallacy when she and her family were always willing to accept aid.
To be fair to Wilder, her original drafts for the Little House books are often less egregiously bootstrappy and ‘Merica, but her daughter… her terrible, terrible daughter (I cannot and won’t even begin to describe the totality of Rose Wilder Lane’s awfulness. Let’s just say the whole evil, libertarian coven thing she has going with Ayn Rand and Isabel Mary Paterson might be toward the BOTTOM of the awfulness scale) insisted on politicizing them against FDR and the New Deal and, dear God, basic human decency. Don’t forget a central tenant to the whole libertarian thing is that helping other human beings is bad, OK? Don’t forget this.
I mean, I wish I could go on. But I don’t want to ruin the fun. And it is a fun read, all things said. I mean, I’m a historian by nature so maybe fun is more because it’s an engaging look at a subject near and dear to my heart–the myths and symbols of political identity. But, guys, just get you a drink and read about this dumpster fire of a family (again, Almonzo’s not terrible, though he has no trouble cheating the government when he feels necessary) and how they contributed so much to this stupid idea that you don’t need anyone or anything to help you as long as you’re willing to work hard. (There’s a lot of accepting of help done, of course. They just espouse not accepting help.)
Also, if you’re feeling like you need a taste of what I’m talking about before you’re willing to delve into the book, you should go read Ana Mardoll’s hilarious (-ly insightful) read-through. She originally posted it as a thread on Twitter, but it got posted to her blog, as well, so I’m gonna post it here. Rose Wilder Lane Being Terrible Her Entire Life!
This isn’t so much a recommendation of what to drink as what to read, though. If you’re a wine drinker, drink wine. If you want something a bit stronger, do that. Whatever floats your boat. I was never great at the booze recommendation, though, because I’m a lower-case t totaler. (Yes, I did just make a ridiculously stupid history joke. Let me have my things, people! This whole two months of social distancing thing is getting to me.)
Read the book! If you do, please please come say hi to me on Twitter @NerdCactus and talk to me about it! THEY’RE SO TERRIBLE, but it’s SO ENTERTAINING! Especially since Rose Lane basically self-sabotages everything, and it’s kind of fun to watch.
Seriously. Come visit me. I love talking to people over the internet. It’s much better and less awkward than talking to people in person because my intensity doesn’t burn your face off.