Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
-Laura Ingalls Wilder, "from the form letter distributed by Harper when she became too frail to answer her voluminous mail" (Fraser, 511)
We FINALLY find ourselves at the end of our own long winter! And as I reached the end of Caroline Fraser's detailed chronicle of Wilder's life, I was reassured by a voice from the past suggesting that heroism is found in "daily perseverance, the unprized tenacity of unending labor...of chores, [and] repetitive tasks defined by drudgery" (Fraser, 515). Perhaps Fraser was referring to Wilder's struggles with farming or settling or housekeeping or life in general, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the timeless struggle of motherhood. Almost one hundred years after the first publication of Little House in the Big Woods and as for millions of readers who have come before us, Laura Ingalls Wilder's steadfast words encourage us just as much today as they always have.
Please join us this Wednesday as we discuss Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser and compare it to our childhood (or more recent) impressions of reading the "Little House" books.
Drop a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Did you like this book?
2. What do you make of the title?
3. The book jacket calls the book a "historical biography". Is that a genre? Perhaps a new genre, as historical fiction was now to Laura Ingalls Wilder?
4. What sections of the book did you appreciate most? Map? Notes? Index? Was there anything lacking? (i.e., I would have appreciated a timeline of Laura's life and publications)
5. What lessons can we learn from the past? (i.e., about politics, fake news/advertising, industry, economy, environmental concerns)
6. Were Native American rights pushed to the side in this book or were they handled appropriately? (I found it particularly fascinating that Fraser referenced Grann's 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the F.B.I., p.512 and epilogue 8.)
7. Weren't you just so mad that MacBride got the copyrights?!
8. How did this biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder change or affirm your impressions of her and her family?
9. What do you make of Laura as a woman and mother? Why doesn't she name her baby boy?
10. Almanzo Wilder: carefree or careless? How did Laura put up with him?
11. Charles Ingalls: wanderer or pioneer? And what about Caroline Ingalls? Does she get short shrift at all?
12. How did Laura's life shape her calling and passion for writing? (exposure to nature, hardship, family storytellers, teaching, historical fiction to read (p148)
13. Why did the pioneers stay? (p167: "It may have seemed, Rose wrote later, that calamities had befallen the Ingallses at every turn, but she recalled them as sublimely content with their lot. "The truth is they didn't expect much in this world," she wrote, "and they just shed thankfulness around them for what they had.")
14. Why do they keep believing railroad propaganda to move to...Minnesota? Dakota? Florida? and Missouri?
15. Laura's parting with her parents as the Wilders leave for Missouri is tearful. They had left before, what made this different?
16. When they take off for Missouri, Laura claims they are "not covered wagon folks!...We got above that..." (p186). She had left a dozen homes behind and had lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Florida and Dakota. How could she have made this claim? Was this an attempt to hide or walk away from the shame of poverty?
17. What do you make of Rose Wilder Lane? Do you believe Fraser's argument that Rose spends her life rebuilding houses to replace the one she may have felt responsible for burning down on the Dakota tree claim?
Thank you so much for coming out to discuss Prairie Fires last night! Who knew we would have such a large turn out for such a tome even if it did with the Pulitzer in 2018?! :) Some of you shared other titles and series that complement the Little House books or that you also enjoyed reading as a child. Could you also share the titles and podcasts with this list? Thank you so much!
Now for upcoming events!
On May 7th at 6:30pm the O'Neill Social Justice Book Club is discussing You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie. Many of us enjoyed discussing this memoir last fall, and given the recent accusations made against Alexie as part of the #metoo movement, I am interested in revisiting this discussion. Please join if you can!
And now for May: Please join us on May 30th as we discuss A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, now a movie!
Happy reading, everyone!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.