I am Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have been practicing since I was a Half-Pint.
My personal Laura-hood began on a childhood road trip during which took my family through a rural area. In real life we traveled the road flanked by corn fields at night, and, of course,in Laura-life Pa would have already halted the wagon for the day and the horses would be long-settled. There was something thrilling, though, about being someone other than myself, especially in the delicious dark of the backseat.
Likely not long after, my sister and I spent a summer devoted to the Little House television series. That summer we were also absorbed by our dollhouses, and, in particular, a small doll who resided in said dollhouses. She wore a ruffled peach dress, a petticoat, and pantalons, and her porcelain face was framed by yellow ringlets. Naturally, she was our Nellie Oleson and a leading character in the live-action fan fiction we performed every summer morning. She was wicked, and, to be honest, more fun to personify than the honest, earnest Laura.
I reached the apogee of my Laura-hood at age eleven, when I stepped out in prairie garb for Halloween: a gingham dress covered by a pinafore, braids, a lunch pail and slate, and a bonnet to protect my face from the unforgiving sun (photo forthcoming). This costume required a fair degree of explanation, which was nothing new, the previous year having been the Year of Betsy Ross. I was the sixth grader, who, if life as Laura didn’t pan out, planned to pursue a career in historical interpretation. In costume, of course.
As an adult I have established homesteads across the country, I have been a teacher, I am a writer. I am still Laura.
I must confess: Ken Kalfus’ New Yorker article, “A Book Buyer’s Lament,” recently reminded me that when it comes to buying books, my immortal soul may be in peril. You see, I want as many books as I can get, as fast as I can get them. These desires aren’t sinful in themselves. The sin occurs when I act on them. I am an Amazon shopper.
I love Amazon. When I lived in rural Washington, I had access to none of the bookish things which I had previously enjoyed. I had no awesome independent bookstores. I didn’t even have a fully-stocked chain bookstore. The local college Barnes and Noble couldn’t even manage to get all the new releases out on Tuesdays. For my books, and for many other things, I turned to Amazon. Let me tell you, dear readers, the road to hell is made all the more slippery by the ease of 1-click ordering and the delight of free two-day shipping.
It never felt right. I believe in, and, more than that, I love independent bookstores. I crave the browse and the bag that breaks with too many books.
But: books! Fast! Cheap!
Amazon is not my only sin. I own an e-reader that made five-and-a-half years of criss-crossing the country to visit my family so much easier. (Books are heavy, y’all!). I buy used books, too, depriving authors of the royalties they might have made had I purchased the book new.
I believe in paper. I believe in authors.
How about this: as penance I’ll make a real effort to read one of the unread books on my shelves and I’ll read a month’s worth of bedtime stories to my cats.
Last month, inspired by a chapter in Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, my book club shared things we don’t do. There was a triumphant gleefulness in the way we declared ourselves free of the things that make our lives heavy: Megan doesn’t watch scary movies. Ever. Colleen does not read science fiction or fantasy–do not try and talk about Tolkien with this woman. Seriously.
I don’t do diaries. I don’t do journals, either. During the years before I learned this about myself, I purchased some truly lovely blank books with the intent to fill them faithfully. Each journal, dutifully begun, accrued only a handful of entries. I am introspective to the nth degree, but I was never able to make daily journaling a habit. Re-reading various attempts has prejudiced me against further action. Free-writing, I’ve discovered, finds me maudlin, and I have no desire to revisit the worst version of a particular moment. Better by far that I should forget and smile than remember and be sad.
Here are some interesting reads for your weekend:
At my house, the Gryffindors typically start their strutting around 3 a.m.
Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. I didn’t have a lot of luck with this library. I was young. I was scared. I had no sense of direction at the time, so the tour I took as part of freshman orientation made absolutely no impact on me. But none of that lead me to my defining moment with this library, the time I went to study for an economic test and found myself in a carrel located near a shelf holding general interest books. I read a romance novel I found on the shelf. I failed my test.
Steely Library. Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY. I did better with this library. Not big enough to get lost in, and no romance novels that I ever found. My relationship with Steely Library soured forever, though, the day I was searching the online catalog and another student selected the computer next to me, pulled up a chair, pulled out his cheeseburger, then pulled up ESPN.com on the screen in front of him.
Regenstein Library. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. The Reg. A truly serious library for truly serious students. I spent most of my time in Special Collections with MS 116, a sixteenth-century martyrology on which I wrote my Master’s thesis. Serious students in serious libraries take things, well, very seriously. If you couldn’t find a reference volume you were looking for, it was quite likely that one of your classmates had hid it from you, either on another shelf or in one of the lockers available for use. Of course, hiding reference books was highly verboten, but that didn’t stop people. One of my friends lost her locker privileges after a surprise search revealed her misdeed. I didn’t know she had it in her.
William Rainey Harper Memorial Library. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. O, Library of Libraries. I used Harper primarily for studying. And for pretending I went to Hogwarts. Magic.