LAURA INGALLS WILDER, FARM JOURNALIST: WRITINGS FROM THE OZARKS (University of Missouri Press, $34.95), edited by Stephen W. Hines
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 66 when the first volume in her beloved "Little House" series, "Little House in the Big Woods," was published. But Wilder had already been an established writer for more than two decades by that point, writing a biweekly column about women and country life for a publication known as the Missouri Ruralist.
Stephen W. Hines collects 13 years worth of these columns in the book "Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist." Hines's undertaking seems worthwhile in the name of preserving the many interesting, grassroots-level glimpses of a time of great change in American history that can be found in the work.
However, many of the almost 200 columns collected cover similar territory and strike repetitive themes, and it's hard to imagine "Farm Journalist" sustaining the prolonged interest of any but the most devoted Laura Ingalls Wilder fan or expert on the era.
That's not to say that a more casual reader won't find plenty of gems. More than anything, Wilder was an ardent defender of country living at a time when more Americans than ever were leaving the farms for town or city life.
But far from being stuck in the past, Wilder was a passionate advocate of modern conveniences that were just becoming available to homes across the land such things as indoor plumbing and electric lights and home appliances. She imagines the day when everything in a woman's kitchen "from peeling the potatoes to cooking the dinner and washing the dishes is done by electricity," giving farm wives more time to listen to the birds singing or notice the beauty of the sky and clouds.
Still, a little of that kind of historical novelty goes a long way, and in her columns, Wilder never strayed too far from her favorite themes of hard work, thrift and determination in the running of a home and raising of a family. The book benefits from her occasional foray into other topics, particularly politics and her championing of a woman's right to vote.
"There are all kinds of women as well as of men and that woman's vote will no more bring purity into politics and can no more be counted on as a unit than can man's vote," Wilder wrote in a column from 1919, as women's suffrage was spreading across the land.
This is the kind of book for which libraries are made. History tends to favor the major players, and "Farm Journalist" is a useful reminder that the life's work of many Americans amounted largely to keeping the family warm, well-fed and happy.