Yesterday I read several articles in the New York Review of Books about fiction that I have no interest in reading. Sometimes periodicals are a real waste of time. On the bright side, however, I did pick up Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, which Paul had just reread for the 50th time. And it's good; it's really good. If you can eradicate the poisonous memory of the Little House on the Prairie TV show, you should take a look at this series with a fresh eye. The writing is plain and strong, and the portrait of the family always moves me. Moreover, it is full of information about how to do things: how to sew a sheet, how to make a pie from green pumpkin, how to fill a hay wagon, how to smoke a pig. Wilder doesn't purvey this information nostalgically or condescendingly, not even quite in a how-to kind of way, but weaves it into the pattern of her narrative. She makes it clear that the task, whatever it might be at the moment, just happens to be what life is.
They all sat waiting in the tidy shanty. Mary was busily knitting to finish warm stockings for Carrie before the cold weather. Laura was sewing two long breadths of muslin together to make a sheet. She pinned the edges together carefully and fastened them with a pin to her dress at the knee. Carefully holding the edges even, she whipped them together with even, tiny stitches.The stitches must be close and small and firm and they must be deep enough but not too deep, for the sheet must lie smooth, with not the tiniest ridge down its middle. And all the stitches must be so exactly alike that you could not tell them apart, because that was the way to sew.Mary had liked such work, but now she was blind and could not do it. Sewing made Laura feel like flying to pieces. She wanted to scream. The back of her neck ached and the thread twisted and knotted. She had to pick out almost as many stitches as she put in.