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Book review: Laura Ingalls Wilder book explores her career as a farm journalist

Remember the days before computers?

Hard to, isn't it? They seemed so Jetsons thirty years ago, but computers are as common as TVs in most homes now. Come to think of it, your grandparents might remember the days before TV.

Back then, folks got their news and entertainment from local wags and newspaper, and farmers -- who were sometimes a bit isolated -- often had to wait a week for it. Eighty years ago, if you lived in the Ozarks, you'd have gotten farm hints and tips, gardening ideas, gossip, and advice from a surprising source: a woman farm writer. In Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist, editor Stephen W. Hines explains.

In the late 1980s, Hines says he spent his lunch hours perusing a now-gone bookstore, and he came upon something that led him on a mission. A book he read indicated that beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder was a farm writer before she penned her wildly popular "Little House" books. Intrigued, Hines began digging.

He found that Wilder had worked for the Missouri Ruralist from 1911 through 1924 and had been given a byline, uncommon for that time in journalism. Hines discovered that Wilder was a "prized contributor" as a "leader in the farming community." This book is a compilation of her columns.

In those columns, Wilder dispenses advice for farm wives and gardeners, mothers and canners. She talks of traveling to California, visiting the local fair. and touring the International Exposition in Missouri. Recipes are freely shared (and are useable for modern cooks who go by cups and tablespoons rather than "pinches" and "dashes"). At a time before women were allowed to vote, Wilder displays a surprising amount of feminism in her thoughts, writing about how women are fully capable of running farms, handling money matters by themselves, and keeping track of business details. And every now and then, Wilder moves aside to allow her husband, Almanzo, to add his opinions and ideas.

Think this is another part of the beloved story that spawned a TV series? Don't, because "Little House" this ain't. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist is pretty dry and not a bit dramatic. Reading it is a bit like wading through a stack of moldering farm magazines from your grandpa's attic.

Don't get me wrong, though. The words of Wilder hark back to a time when visiting was a fine way to spend a Saturday night, nobody expected immediate results from much of anything, and women who wore overalls were seen as daring. I think the best way to enjoy this book is to bounce around and savor it slowly, rather than to try to read it like you would a "Little House" book. I mean, even farmers back then got these columns at a one-a-week pace.

For farmers, farm wives, country residents, historians, and anyone who wants a different peek at the words of a cherished author, try this book -- but slowly. For a look back in time, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist is among the top of the crop.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.