06 March 2008

Library Books

• The Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz
One of the most hotly contested books in LIW fandom, Holtz's entire purpose for this book seems to be to prove that Rose Wilder Lane, a journalist, traveler and writer in her own right, was the real author of the "Little House" series and great injustice has been done not putting her names on the books. Holtz also accuses the famous Laura of being a cold, unapproachable mother.

Frankly, all this book does is convince me that Rose was a whiner who blamed all her problems on her upbringing, and I don't think that was true at all. Rose definitely was not cut out for the life of a farmer's or Midwestern businessman's wife; instead she taught herself telegraphy and did many things during her career, including writing books, traveling overseas (including to Albania, which was a dangerous place in those days), and even selling land. She married the wrong guy, later divorced him, and though professing to hate Missouri, almost always came home for a while to Mansfield and the farm her parents had struggled to create. Holtz seems to be judging Laura Ingalls Wilder as a mother against the touchy-feely attitude of the television series Little House on the Prairie, when instead she was a woman of the times: stoic in grief, sparing in her praise. Was she stubborn and sometimes unreasonable? Yes—Laura says so herself in the business about Miss Wilder and Carrie's rocking the desk in Little Town on the Prairie—and aren't we all unless we are saints like Mother Teresa?

Holtz seems more embittered than Rose about the fact that her name did not get on the "Little House" books and she was not more well known. Rose herself said she didn't want to be associated with "children's stories," although Holtz presents ample proof that Rose did heavily edit and perhaps embellish the "Little House" novels. Rose didn't whine; why should we?

• Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, John E. Miller
A more balanced narrative than Holtz' book, but also more pedestrian. Since Laura left few personal papers as opposed to Rose, who wrote copious letters and kept a journal, Miller must constantly rely on Rose's POV or his own conjecture, which produces a lot of minute details of what organizations and entertainments were available in Mansfield, Missouri at the time of Laura and Almanzo's life there and then a statement that "the Wilders might have attended." The narrative is drier and Miller also repeats himself on several occasions. On the other hand, there are some very revealing or funny stories here, including what happened during the Depression when a Federal worker told Almanzo Wilder he wasn't allowed to plant a crop of popcorn. (The Wilders were not fans of FDR and the New Deal.) And, unlike Holtz, Miller does not constantly refer to "blind Aunt Mary" every time he mentions Mary Ingalls, a great relief. Recommended if you don't mind the scholarly approach to biographies and if you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

• Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, Henry Jenkins
Contains essays that Jenkins wrote about media fans and actions between the publication of his groundbreaking book Textual Poachers in 1992 and his newest book about online fandom and how it shapes today's media, Convergence Culture. These include his original "Star Trek" essay about fan fiction, his examination of the alt.tv.twin-peaks Usenet group (which I have read elsewhere and it drives me mad not being able to remember where), a commentary about gay fans' disappointment with the non-introduction of gay life in the Star Trek universe, and examination of slash fanfic. The last third of the book are his experiences defending action video games after the shootings at Columbine High School, and the book concludes with a discussion between himself and his son about different aspects of four Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. An enjoyable mixed bag, but I much prefer the fan-centric stories than those analyzing the nature of classifying aspects of fandom.

• Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins
I'd love to say I adored this book, but, unlike Textual Poachers, which was about fanfiction (and other fan creations), it's not only about fans' intersection with the internet (which isn't bad; that's what it's supposed to be about), but it partially involves two shows I have absolutely no interest in, Survivor and American Idol. Jenkins makes the subjects at least interesting, and the chapter about children participating in Harry Potter fandom was quite enjoyable.

• Wait Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin
I hate baseball. But I adore this book. But then Goodwin grew up in a time when ballparks were chummy, ballplayers didn't mainline steroids to succeed, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were a neighborhood team not an inapproachable franchise. She takes you back to hot summer days where radio announcers were nearly as famous as the players they followed, the sound of strikes and crowds floating out of each window as you passed. Too, her story is about growing up in the 1950s, in the warm neighborhoods populated by local merchants, friends who played endlessly in the streets and one another's yards, her parents and sisters, and the Catholic Church. Be assured I will be adding this one to my library.

• America 1908, Jim Rasenberger
Another book I didn't buy and am sorry I didn't. Rasenberger takes us back one hundred years, to a president who was unpredictable and capricious (and sometimes hated), to great technological achievement, the military showing its might, conflicts in the sports world and between the races, obsessions with celebrities, and stunt contests on a grand scale. If it sounds similar to today, well, truly some things never change. Theodore Roosevelt, the 1908 flights of the Wright brothers, the race to "discover" the North Pole, the stunning season of the New York Giants, the Great White Fleet, the horrifying spectacle of racial injustice in Springfield, Illinois (home of Abraham Lincoln), the trial of Harry Thaw for shooting Stanford White (which had people salaciously hanging on to every word of wife Evelyn Nesbit's sexually-charged testimony), and the creation of the Model T, which would catapult Americans onto the open road, come alive in this wonderful volume. Did you know that a 1908 magazine predicted the cell phone? That in 1908 Theodore Roosevelt told his advisor Archie Butts (who later died on the Titanic) that war between Japan and the United States was inevitable? That 1908 was the first time "the ball" was dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve? The lively narrative is a definite plus.

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