Bad Book Review No. 2: On behalf of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I feel totally indignant

You’ve probably read at least one of the books from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I first started reading them in kindergarten and instantly was smitten with the world that Wilder brought to life. I built houses out of Lincoln Logs and pretended that I was Pa, building a house on the prairie. My friends and I pretended that the playground was a forest and that we had to protect ourselves from bears.

My mom, who’d bought me my first copy of Little House in the Big Woods, got me a bunch of later books in the series, as well as biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Because, of course, this was back before Wikipedia and if you wanted to know about someone you had to get a book about them.) Somehow one particular four-pack of books from Costco made it into my possession; this was a chunk of a series called “The Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

It took me a while to realize that these books were not written by Wilder, nor were they nonfiction biographies about her. They were fictional stories about things that never happened to Wilder, written by some guy named “T.L. Tedrow.”

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know what that means. These books are fanfiction.I don’t have anything against fanfiction as a concept. From a writer’s perspective, writing fanfiction is a great way to sharpen your wit, hone your prose, and practice developing characters and plots in a ready-made universe. I just don’t think anyone should publish their fanfiction and pass it off as literature.

It might be understandable, I guess, if Mr. Tedrow embellished on events in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life that she hadn’t described in-depth in her books. But no. What Mr. Tedrow did was create an entirely inaccurate character, make up wild events (cause, you know, her real life wasn’t at all interesting) and then slap Wilder’s name on it.Think I’m exaggerating? In the four books I have, Laura Ingalls Wilder goes to the World’s Fair and becomes Alice Roosevelt‘s new BFF, helps solve a murder, gets thrown in jail for advocating women’s rights with Ellen Boyle and Susan B. Anthony, and has a second daughter named Laurie (named after herself).

None of these things happened. Also, half the books are dedicated to three made-up kids called Sherry, Terry, and Larry, and the hilarious hijinks they have with their dog Dangit.

I know this makes me sound like a totally dumb kid, but I just couldn’t process the idea that someone would make up stories about an existing historical character who’d already written books about her life, and publish them. Therefore, I concluded, these stories must be true. I walked into my second-grade class after I’d read one of the books and told my teacher about the time Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan B. Anthony got put in jail together.

It wasn’t until I got to the last book where Wilder has her daughter Laurie, who I couldn’t find in a single biography, that I started to suspect that maybe, in the real world, people really did pull stunts like this.

Bam! Disillusionment.

Seriously, Mr. Tedrow, these books are already 99% made up. Why didn’t you just give Laura Ingalls Wilder’s character a new name and market the books as historical fiction?
Continue Reading

My Top 3 Books

I feel like I never blog about books enough, seeing as “books” are one of the four things I profess to loving in my blog profile. I remember seeing a Top [Number] book list in someone’s blog a while back, and I always meant to write about my own favorite books.

(And for the record, I am all for keeping the printed book around. The other day I had a quasi-nightmare that I had a Kindle. I know it’s cool and tech-y and lightweight but there’s something about throwing a well-loved paperback in your bag and reading it on the train.)
If you’ve read all of my Top 3 books, you might notice that I have a thing for books that somehow capture the essence of life. These three are my favorite books because I just relate so strongly to them, and they are so beautifully written and constructed.
1. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

There is something magical and indeterminably lovely about The Little Prince, even though I am only ever able to read the translated English version. It tugs at my heart every time I read it—just reading the Wikipedia summary of this book makes me cry. It captured my heart when I was too little to understand what made it so beautiful and I still love it to death; so much that, in fact, that I end up succumbing when it’s used for cheap marketing gimmicks.
2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

I don’t know how to explain why I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. At face value you might say nothing remarkable happens in it; there are no shocking plot twists and it’s the literary equivalent of a picture album. But somehow Betty Smith has encapsulated the poignancy of childhood and growing up, of understanding life and heartbreak of all kinds, and her prose is so starkly beautiful—not flowery, mind you, but every word is so well-chosen it’s astounding.

3. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake is a more recent discovery of mine but it is such a beautiful book. It has the same illustrative prose and naturally disjointed style as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but applied to the first-generation American experience. It captures so well the pain and loveliness and haphazard maturity that comes with being trapped between cultures.

“Honorable Mention” favorite books: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov (such an insidious journey), The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, and of course, the Harry Potter series, because I can never stop reading them and still have the scary ability to quote entire passages at a time.
Continue Reading

On Bookmarks

Bookmarks, for me, are the most useless things ever.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. I read a lot, and I have a bad habit of reading up to four novels at once, switching back and forth, and I’m always in need of something to hold my page. My apparent ability to effortlessly memorize numbers clearly applies only to dates and phone numbers but not three-digit page numbers.

I must have dozens of bookmarks collected over the years–given as gifts, taken as free promotions, self-drawn or crafted–and I hardly ever use them. For some reason I always make note of them, put them down with a Remember to use this later, and then forget that I have a bookmark handy when I need to hold my page.

This is rather troublesome as I try to never, ever keep a book open by sprawling it open and page-down. If it’s possible to be a book nerd, then I am one. It makes me wince when I see people breaking book spines*, dog-earring their pages, thumbing through them with Cheeto-stained fingers, and dumping them upside down to hold their pages. I am honestly proud of the fact that I have really old books I have read dozens of times that still look brand new. Forget human and animal rights, someone needs to picket the White House for book rights.

Back to bookmarks. I think one of the reasons I misplace my belongings so often is that I absentmindedly pick them up to use as bookmarks and then dump them somewhere else when I continue reading. I have used bottles, (clean) eating utensils, hair things, tissue-box remnants, price tags**, ancient to-do lists (“college apps, prom, spirit week!”), other books, articles of clothing, writing utensils, important documents, and my cell phone as bookmarks. I cannot remember for the life of me the last time I used an actual bookmark for its intended use. No, I do remember. It was sometime in elementary school.

There really is no point to this. If you take anything from this post, just remember 1) Do not desecrate a book in front of me because I will pull a Madam Pince and 2) Don’t you ever dare give me a bookmark. I can assure you the poor thing will never be utilized to its full potential, and we wouldn’t want to put it through any such suffering.

*The only exception to book-spine breaking is for music, because that stuff needs to stay open and lay flat. Even then, the dreaded crack can be avoided because they sell little metal pronged things that keep your music open.

**I have a thing with price tags. I always snip them off of clothes and keep them, probably out of a misguided just-in-case instinct, and then I keep them for so long I can’t bear to throw them away. Thus there are many, many ancient price tags littered around my room.

Continue Reading