While recuperating from (very) minor surgery last week, I read Kelly Kathleen Ferguson’s My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself, which was just published by Press 53. Hilariously realistic and sincere, it was a great book to read while stuck at home and feeling kind of miserable. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Part of that enjoyment was no doubt due to the fact that I know Kelly and really like her. She took my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy two springs ago. Throughout that class, which wasn’t anything near the quality I would have liked due to the commitments of my day job (being an administrator doesn’t really leave one a lot of time to prep a grad course!), I was grateful for Kelly’s contributions and insights. Her easy, self-deprecating humor was a pleasant mask for her genuine insights into Sterne’s masterpiece. Whatever my students got out of that class was entirely due to their own efforts and participation in the seminar’s discussion. Kelly was a key part of that.

I should, perhaps, also note that PJ and I had recently heard Kelly give a reading from this memoir before I started reading it. That taste let me know that a) I was going to enjoy it and b) I could draw on my memory of Kelly’s delivery so that reading it felt like she was reading it to me. I always find that hearing the author’s voice in my head augments my pleasure as a reader. (I often “hear” Jane Austen’s voice when I read her books too!)

My Life as Laura is Kelly’s memoir of physically retracing the pioneer journey of her favorite writer as a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder. As she visits LIW sites throughout the Plains states, she examines her own life and tries to come to terms with the way things have turned out: she’s a 38-year-old woman who hasn’t “achieved” the usual milestones that 38-year-old women are supposed to “achieve”: she’s not married, she doesn’t have kids, and she’s not a doctor. Reflecting on the life and times of her idol, Kelly finds her own sense of purpose and achieves a different kind of goal: she becomes a professional writer. (Though the book is not an optimistic homage to Kelly’s successful achievement of that goal — it’s far more complex than that.)

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