On my nightstand is These Happy Golden Years, the last of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, three quarters of which I reread while wondering about my two grandmothers’ experiences as one-room schoolteachers.
If you’re not familiar with Wilder’s eight autobiographical novels, you must not have read girls’ books as a child: the famous series describes Laura and her family’s experiences as Midwestern pioneers. In These Happy Golden Years, fifteen-year-old Laura takes a job as a teacher in a shanty school 12 miles from town to earn money to support her sister Mary at the College for the Blind.
Wilder doesn’t soften the bleakness. Laura boards with the Brewster family, and Mrs. Brewster dislikes her. An older boy at school, Clarence, encourages the other children to be disrespectful.
Laura was in despair. They were all against her; she could not discipline them. Oh, how could they be so mean? For an instant she remembered Miss Wilder, who had failed to teach the school in town. “This is the way she felt,” Laura thought.
I can just imagine my teenage grandmothers struggling. They were both very nice.
Wilder’s spare, simple, unsentimental prose cuts close to the bone.
The novel is not all about schoolteaching, though. The muted romance between Laura andAlonzo Wilder, who drives her home in his sleigh every weekend, is realistic.
The Library of America just published a two-volume set of Wilder’s books.
2. David Garnett’s Lady into Fox. David Garnett, the son of Constance Garnett, the translator, was a member of the Bloomsbury group and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1922 for this allegorical fantasy.
It is blessedly short: 40 pages in the Echo Library edition. It is also available free at manybooks.net It has been recommended by many bloggers.
3. Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life by Richard Garnett. I adore Constance Garnett, the Russian translator, and Richard, her biographer, is her grandson. This summer I read several of Turgenev’s books translated by Constance, who is out of fashion now, but her style is quite good. Bring back Turgenev.
4. D. E. Stevenson’s The Blue Sapphire. I love some of D. E. Stevenson’s books: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, Miss Buncle’s Book (just published by Sourcebooks), The Baker’s Daughter, and Spring Magic, to name a few.
I abandoned The Blue Sapphire after 100 pages, as it was a bit too romantic for me, but I recently rescued it from its perch on the chest of drawers. The plot: Julia Harburn must choose between her stuffy fiance and the handsome Stephen, whom she meets on a park bench, and who says she should have a sapphire ring instead of a diamond. He has discovered a sapphire mine.
5. Robert A. Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks through Walls. I love SF, read little of it, and found a copy of this at a sale. A blurb by The New York Times says on the back: “Dialogue as witty as Oscar Wilde’s, action as rollicking as Edgar Rice Burroughs’, and satire as spicy as Jonathan Swift’s.”
Oh, dear. I will definitely be reading this one tonight.