The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

The more nonfiction I read, the more I notice the amount of books, many of them published in the last ten years or so, that combine nonfiction with memoir. They are books that take an investigative topic, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, and then adds the aspects of the memoir. It’s a compelling format, but sometimes I think it works better than others. In The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of  Little House on the Prairie, I think McClure’s book is a good example of how it can work, there are also times when I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Writing a review of a memoir is always difficult. If you don’t like a memoir, does that mean you don’t like a person? Of course not, but sometimes it feels like you are reviewing a person’s life rather than an author’s book. I want to make it clear that for the most part, I really enjoyed The Wilder Life and what McClure did with the premise, but the ending felt rushed and some of the connections McClure made to her personal life were tenuous. I wanted more reflection about where her journey had taken her, rather than a tidy wrap-up at the end.

One day, when her father and mother are cleaning out their house, McClure rediscovers her childhood favorites: the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. She rereads them and finds herself obsessed with the books and living “the Wilder life”. She peruses message boards, does research, purchases a butter churn. She wants to find any facet of prairie life that she can in the modern world, so she decides to visit all of the existing Wilder museums and homesteads.

As someone who read the books as a child, but was not obsessed with them, it was fun to read about someone who was. I understood completely this kind of obsession. There’s one moment when McClure says she “felt like a fan girl”. I wanted to sit her down and say “Honey, you are a fan girl. Let that flag fly.” And for the most part, she does. McClure is funny, she is intelligent and she asks all the questions you would want someone analyzing the Little House books in 2011 to ask. For example, she asks if Laura is a feminist. She asks if Laura is racist. She examines the questions of poverty and homesteading and anything you would want to know about prairie life.

Beyond that, she also provides and extensive bibliography. If there is anything you could possibly want to know about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her family or her history, you can be sure that McClure has already read it for you. Anywhere you could possibly want to go to learn about Laura, McClure has been there. And she has talked about it in an entirely honest way. Not all Laura exhibits are created equal and McClure is honest about that.

I really liked living in McClure’s world. She’s a candid narrator and I’d love to meet her one day and talk about what it means to be a fan. I feel like Wendy McClure and Melissa Anelli would really get along. I’m certainly happy to have found McClure and her writing and will be picking up her memoir I’m Not the New Me, so if that’s not a recommendation for The Wilder Life,  I’m not sure what is.

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Do you have a review of The Wilder Life? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add it here.

2010, what a wonderful year!*

*for reading that is!

2010 seems like the longest year of my life. When I look back to what I was reading at the beginning of the year, I can’t believe that that was still 2010.  You mean I only read Anne of Green Gables this year?!  I only just read and fell in love with Blankets in 2010? That wasn’t last year? Are you sure?

Blogging has had its share of ups and downs this year, but I’m pleased to be ending the year on a strong note, with only more hopes for more excellent reading and blogging in 2011.  Over the past few days I have gone back and reread a lot of my posts from the early days of Regular Rumination and I think that my little blog and I have really come into our own over the last few months.

In terms of reading, there have certainly been some hits and some misses, but for the most part, I would say that my reading of 2010 was great.  So here we are, the 2010 Regular Rumination Awards.  These are the books that struck me as particularly wonderful, that still stick with me all these months later, that I think you should be reading to make your 2011 as excellent a reading year as my 2010 was.

To avoid this just being a normal old top ten list, I’ve added made-up superlatives.

The book that was so good, I had to reread it immediately

Is anyone surprised by this choice?  When I read Blankets back on the 2 of January, I was blown away.  When I turned the last page, I went back and started it all over again.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the night rereading and reliving the relationship between Craig and Raina – in fact, I’m pretty sure I’d like to name a future daughter Raina.

What makes Blankets the best graphic novel I read this year?  The drawings absolutely took my breath away, but so did the story.  Thompson weaves together the story of his relationship with his brother and family with the story of his first love.  It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and changed the way I read graphic novels forever.  I can’t wait for Thompson’s newest, Habibi, to be released.

Honorable mention: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Best Precocious Child Narrator

This book was a total surprise.  I don’t even know how it came into my hands, other than the fact that we all know I’m enticed by a blue cover with adorable pictures on it.  What I wasn’t expecting was one of the most intelligent, endearing middle-grade fiction books I have ever read.  Bapu is Anu’s grandfather and one day, while they are out walking, he collapses.  What follows is Anu’s journey to find his grandfather again after he has passed away.  This book with simultaneously crush your heart and heal it again.  Anu has such great friends and such a great family and such wonderful insights that somehow never seem out of place coming from such a young person.  I want everyone to read this book, it is wonderful.  It deals with such heavy topics, but is also so funny.

Honorable Mention: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Most Underrated Book By A Book Blog Darling

This is a book that I don’t think I ever expected to end up on this list, but here it is: Flight by Sherman Alexie.  Alexie has had his fair share of coverage on a lot of book blogs, especially for his most recent foray into YA with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I loved that book, but this one is better.  Most critics didn’t like it, but I say, they are crazy.  This book is great.

Zits, our narrator, is a homeless and poor Indian boy who, in a fit of desperation, decides to blow up a bank.  Instead of dying when the bomb goes off, he is transported back in time to inhabit some famous historical figures.  Yes, the premise is different, but that is why I loved it so much.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  If I had one complaint it would be that this book is too short.  Probably one of the best compliments you can give a book, now that I think about it.

Honorable Mention: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

Best Book Worth All the Hype

Look, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is my favorite book of 2010, BUT it is a book that I think is worth the hype it received.  Is Franzen the greatest American novelist? Um, no, but he is a great US novelist.  This book so perfectly captures a specific time in our history and has made me even more eager to pick up The Corrections, Franzen’s first novel.  Maybe that will make my list next year?

Honorable Mention: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Best Book I Want To Put in the Hand of Every Girl/Woman I Know

It was tough to choose between the two Robin Brande books I read this year, Fat Cat and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, and while I thought Mena was such an amazing role model and the combination of religion and science in Freaks of Nature was brilliant, I had to pick Cat.  Maybe it’s because I saw a little bit (okay, a lot) of myself in Cat.  I wish Cat was real so we could be best friends.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I cannot wait for Brande’s next book, because I know it will be amazing.  It’s as simple as that.  Not enough people are reading these books.  Why aren’t you reading these books?  Hmmm?  Why?

Honorable Mention: Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande and Reading Women: How the Great Book of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal
Best Memoir in a Year Full of Excellent Memoirs


I read so many great memoirs this year that I didn’t even get a chance to review them all and going back to pick my favorite was difficult.  I finally decided on Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert because it’s just so unique and I learned so much.  Gilbert is a wild bird rehabber and her journey is just so interesting and full of humor.  I dare you to read Gilbert’s memoir and not be charmed.

Honorable mention: Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

Biggest Disappointment

I don’t think Great House by Nicole Krauss is a bad book, but I had such high expectation for it and it floundered under those expectations.  I don’t know if that’s my fault or the fault of the book.  It was such an even book that it was even more disappointing.  There was real greatness here, but it was ruined (for me) by the inconsistencies.

Honorable Mention: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

But let’s end this on a happy note…

Favorite Classic of 2010

Mrs. Dalloway is beautiful and contains easily some of the most amazing writing… ever.  I would have quoted the entire book if I could have.  I’m so glad the Woolf In Winter readalong made me read it, because I loved it.

Honorable  Mention: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (a very close second!)

2010 was a great year for reading, but here’s to hoping 2011 is even better!  Happy New Year, everyone!  I’ll see you next year, lolol.

Harry Potter Changed My Life, Too: Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

Let’s start this post with a sad story, okay?  It’s a sad story that has a happy ending, so don’t worry about that, but this story begins in a sad place.  Middle school is bad for most people, but I had a particularly torturous time.  Kids were just so mean.  I was a chubby kid, who loved to read, who didn’t listen to cool music, who had horribly uncontrolled frizzy hair.  I didn’t know how I was going to make it through middle school and was  terrified that, if anything, high school would just be worse.   I read constantly, just to escape the world I had to live in every day.  I would hide books in my textbooks during class (and get made fun of for it).

Then, somewhere in the middle of seventh grade, Harry Potter came along.  No, Harry Potter didn’t help my popularity or make my time at school easier, but it gave me something better.  At first, Harry Potter was just a pure escape to a world as complete as my own that I could get lost in.  Then, it gave me my first online community.  Though Regular Rumination is my first blog, I’ve been an active and proud member of online communities since 1999.  I immersed myself in Harry Potter, from fan fiction to fan art, and no longer was going to school so unbearable when I knew that I had the books and plenty of people to talk with about them just a click away on the computer.  Harry Potter brought me out of a particularly dark time in my life.  I crave the feeling I got from reading through the first three Harry Potter books and wish I could anticipate a book as much as I anticipated Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, probably my favorite book of the series (tied with The Prisoner of Azkaban).

So when Amanda of The Zen Leaf linked to her review recently of Harry, A History by Leaky Cauldron webmistress Melissa Anelli, I knew I had to read it.  I frequented The Leaky Cauldron regularly when I was in the throes of Harry Potter fandom, but didn’t know much about the creator or its history.  I would call this book a memoir, rather than just a history of Harry Potter.  It’s more like a combination of the two, because while there is quite a bit of information about the Harry Potter phenomenon, it is also Melissa Anelli’s personal experiences with Harry Potter and the way being a part of the HP fandom changed her life.

A lot of this wasn’t necessarily new to me, but I was quite a bit younger than Anelli when all this happened, so it was interesting to see a lot of events that I remember from a more adult perspective, because a lot of it is clouded in my adolescent memory.   The book begins with Anelli’s story of how she became involved in HP fandom and how she became editor of one of the post popular websites for Harry Potter news and ends with the culmination of all that work with a post-Deathly Hollows interview with Rowling.

What I loved most about this book was how much Anelli’s own excitement about Harry Potter reminded me of my own and how I could relive a little of that through her.  It has made me go back and reread all my fan fiction (some of it laughably bad, some of it actually pretty good, if I do say so myself).  It has made me want to reread all of the books, for the umpteenth time.  I want to feel all of that again, all the joy and sadness and community that is Harry Potter.

I’m sorry if this post seems more like a collection of my own experiences with Harry Potter, but that is kind of what this book is like.  Yes, the book is specifically about Melissa Anelli’s experiences as webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron and the Harry Potter phenomenon, but in turn that leads to you talking about your experiences and remembering where you were when all this was happening.  Part of you wants to be the biggest Harry Potter fan out there, you want to love it more than the next person, but the rest of you wants to share everything you love about it with everyone you know.

I did learn some things from Harry, A History, such as I had no idea how big Wizard Rock had gotten since I stalked Harry and the Potters website for news about a library tour date that was close enough for me to hitch a ride to (it never happened!).  Or how intense the Hermione/Harry and Ron/Hermione shipping wars actually got. I went back to read my fan fiction to determine which ship I belonged to, but I wrote mostly fan fiction about the previous generation, so Harry’s parents.  So I really don’t remember! I don’t think I ever saw Harry and Ginny getting together, but I was ultimately happy they did.  I loved having an inside look into the movie premiers and the interactions Anelli had with Rowling were amazing and I’m so jealous.  I’d love to get to meet her, as I imagine anyone who has read the books would.

And those were just the topics that struck me.  There’s so much here, that even the most seasoned and knowledgeable Harry Potter fan will find something to love here, if it’s only another way to relive that experience all over again.  Anelli does such an amazing job capturing that joy.  Like this!  This makes me so happy:

At Leaky, we were always hearing from people who had been taught to love books through their love for Harry.  We also  heard from dyslexic children who’d fought to overcome their disability in order to read Harry and by doing so realized they could overcome dyslexia almost entirely.  Priscilla Penn, a Leaky reader, told me that her niece, Kaitlin, had a substandard reading comprehension level before she started reading Harry Potter in late 1999.  By the next year her grade level had been brought to normal, and she was enthusiastic about reading.  The same happened for Kodie, a late-teen juvenile delinquent from Terre Haute, Indiana, who was illiterate before he discovered the series; his foster mother Shirley Comer, a nurse, had started reading Harry Potter to him while he was in a juvenile rehabilitation center.

“Now, he wants me to bring him any kind of book on mythology, or Star Wars books.  He even tackled Lord of the Rings,” Shirley said.  She even found him a book on psychology that was appropriate for his comprehension level.  “It’s helping him understand himself a little better, and that’s something that I would never have thought he would have been able to read and enjoy.” (160)

I also got a little reassurance that I wasn’t the only one who felt a certain way about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“So far, Harry had become a whiny bastard and had shouted down everyone who had ever been good to him in his life.  Nothing was magic and happy and enchanting anymore.  Harry was arrogant and prideful and petulant, and kept doing and saying things before thinking, and, in general, had turned into someone I had little interest in spending eight hundred more pages with.” (163)

But eventually, and it took me years to get to this point, I really appreciated what Rowling did to Harry in book 5.  I was that lucky group of kids that got to grow up with Harry.  I was 11 when I started reading the books and I was 18 when they ended.  I was an emotional, whiny 15 year old when I was reading about Harry being a whiny, emotional 15 year old in Order of the Phoenix.  Maybe I saw too much of myself there?

Not only am I eternally grateful for the way Harry Potter changed my life, I’m thrilled that it changed other people’s lives as well and I’m so happy that Melissa Anelli committed that joy to paper.   So if you love Harry Potter, if you want to experience all that again, then read this.

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, The Zen Leaf and Shooting Stars Mag all wrote posts on Harry, A History also.  Did you? Let me know in the comments and I will add your link to this list.