I decided recently that I should be reading more non-fiction. Surely history, travel guides, and memoirs would offer me a much more broad experience in the human condition than made-up stories. I love reading fiction, but I wanted to learn and to grow. I also wanted to read something high-brow. So, of course, my first choice was the biography of Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.
Angela’s Ashes it is not, but that is not Arngrim’s fault. We can’t all have the luxury of growing up poor in Ireland just to write a best-seller. She works with what she has, though. And it is a surprisingly good read.
Yes, the show was an over-the-top cheese fest, but remember that Nellie was really the only respite from all that. Nellie was mean. Nellie was a bully. Nellie was a bitch. Without her, there would have been no real conflict, and the show would have been completely unwatchable.
I was expecting something 100% lighthearted, a brainless summer read. I hadn’t realized that Arngrim was an incest survivor or that she lost a good friend (he husband on the show, Steve Tracy) to AIDS. Reading about the turmoil of her early life brought a real weight to her character on the show; the reader is given a long look at how Alison’s experiences influenced Nellie, and how Nellie’s strength and bitchiness influenced Alison in return.
I would have liked more dirt on Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls), as it is hinted that she was less than pleasant, but there is enough entertainment in the book without that. Who knew Michael Landon was a bit of a drunk who liked to wear tight pants a lot with no underwear? Those kinds of tidbits make the book an all-around enjoyable distraction, even with the heavy parts in the middle.
Check it out!