{Book} The Long Winter

The Long Winter

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the empty winter prairie, gray clouds to the northwest meant only one thing: a blizzard was seconds away. The first blizzard came in October. It snowed almost without stopping until April. The temperature dropped to forty below. Snow reached the roof-tops. And no trains could get through with food and coal. The townspeople began to starve. The Ingalls family barely lived through that winter. And Almanzo Wilder knew he would have to risk his life to save the town. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
I joined the Unread Shelf Project at the beginning of March. The month’s challenge was to read the book that’s been on my shelf the longest. The Long Winter is part of a box-set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books given to me when I was in grade school. So, I figure it pretty much counts.

What Did I Think?
Little House on the Prairie (the TV series, 1974-1983) was staple viewing at my grandparent’s house. My grandpa grew up in northern Minnesota; cabins, farms, and all. I am fairly certain it was one of my aunts and uncles from Minnesota that sent me the set for Christmas. At least the first couple of books were read aloud in grade school as well. I grew up in Nebraska and, even though I’m from Omaha, the prairie and its dangers were never far away. Personally, I didn’t care for the show or the books. I was and ever shall be a city girl and I have never really like kid protagonists, a trait I didn’t really put my finger on until I was an adult. I never quite got into Anne Shirley, or Heidi, or Pippi Longstocking, or even Nancy Drew. I wanted adult adventures, thank you very much. So, I never jived with Laura Ingalls.

Which means that it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that I enjoyed The Long Winter as much as I did. I think the key here is that The Long Winter is the start of a slightly more grown-up Laura, a character with more understanding about her place in the world. She is often melancholy, but consciously sets her feeling aside for the good of her family, especially her younger sisters. I’m looking forward to the next few books in the series in order to see Laura grow. I doubt I would have appreciated this as much when I was younger.

There is a repetitive quality to the narrative. A blizzard blows in, the family ekes through, repeat. It is what it says on the tin: a long winter. I have some patience for such things, but Wilder is a deft writer too. A detail like the frost on the heads of the roof nails is beautiful and strange enough that it weathers repetition well.

In context of the world at the moment, I can’t ignore some of the messaging in the book. Hardships pass and joy can be taken in little things. I’m not eating brown bread twice daily because that’s all there is and glad the snow has covered the building because at least now the wind can’t get in. I don’t want to pretend that the “olden days” were better (or that the story isn’t lightened for the young readership Wilder was writing for), but there is something nice about the concept of life being a little less extravagant; about enjoying a surprise of Christmas candies and really looking forward to reading the newspaper. Just something to keep in mind during these days of isolation and uncertainty.

Original Publishing info: Harper & Brothers, 1940
My Copy: Trade Paperback, Harper & Row, 1971

Unread Shelf Project

8 thoughts on “{Book} The Long Winter

  1. Dale

    I read the whole series at some point when I was a kid and really liked them and then read them again when I had kids. My kids didn’t like them as well as I did. Too much competition from Harry Potter, perhaps.

    Reply
  2. Elyse LeMieux

    I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of my Little House books. My godmother/aunt gave me a couple of box sets (original and companion series) when I was a kiddo and I really enjoyed them. I may have to re-buy them at some point! I don’t think I read all of the companion ones.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Sunday Salon, 3/29 – The Writerly Reader

  4. Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

    The Long Winter was the first book I was able to read all the way through during this period of isolation. It reminded me that I have food in my cabinets and a garden outside and some of the greatest medical facilities in the world just down the road in Houston. I was able to set aside my anxieties, and that is a good reason for me to recommend this book at this time.

    Your review is thoughtful and beautifully written. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Mary Daniels Brown

    I loved the Little House books as a kid but have been reluctant to reread them as an adult because of all the controversy about racism, etc. I was therefore intrigued by your statement that you like this book better as an adult. Maybe I should take another look. Thanks for this thoughtful review.

    Reply

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