Book Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch


I went through a phase when I was a kid where I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. I read all the books multiple times and watched the show daily. It was in syndication by that point and my sister and I used to really like watching it after school. We also liked to play Little House but after a while that got lame for me because, as the older sibling, I had to be Mary and, um, she went blind. There’s nothing fun about playing the blind girl. Just sayin’. When I stopped being willing to be blind Mary, I would send my sister off to round up the neighbors if she wanted to play Little House but she objected to that on the grounds that one neighbor forgot to use character names and just referred to the other players as “sis”. That was unacceptable in our Little House universe.

Reading that over, I am drawing the inescapable conclusion that we were really dorky kids.

Even worse than playing blind Mary is being forced to play Nellie Oleson, Laura Ingalls’ evil nemesis. Nellie was a brat whereas Laura was the fastest girl in school and she could hang with the boys and the girls equally and she had her own horse. I really envied that horse. So did Nellie who took the horse from her once and promptly fell off it and pretended to be paralyzed and turned Laura into her slave and but Laura found out she was faking and pushed her down a hill in her wheelchair into a mud puddle and saved the day.

You see why being Laura was far cooler than being Nellie. Unless you’re Alison Arngrim who played Nellie and wrote a AWESOME memoir about it called. I enjoyed this book more than any other celebrity memoir I’ve ever read. Arngrim is a good writer, funny, and not at all precious about her time on one of the most precious tv shows of all time.

She starts her book talking about her deeply unconventional parents who were one part traveling players and one part old-fashioned swindlers. Her mom got famous for doing voice overs for Casper the Friendly ghost and other cartoons. Her dad, who was gay but pretending not to be to everyone but her mother, was a manager. This portion of her life story would have been merely a quirky prologue to her own intro into show business were it not for the fact that she was sexually abused by her older brother for years. Arngrim eventually because a sexual abuse activist.

The rest of the book is exactly the story about life on the Prairie that I wanted to hear. So many celebrities try shy away from the one thing they’re most famous for and try to tell the rest of the story if they get the chance. But I want to know about Little House and Arngrim tells me about Little House.

First of all, she and Melissa Gilbert who played Laura were best friends despite their characters’ enmity for each other. She tells great stories about sleep-overs at each other’s houses and their antics on set including one about peeing in wet suits when they had to shoot a long scene in a cold river one day. She also shares that Melissa Sue Anderson who played Mary was tremendously unfriendly and never seemed to like anyone. Michael Landon who played Pa Ingalls was nice but put away booze all day long while shooting.

She also shared the secret of Nellie’s prefect ringlets. They were a wig, ostensibly one of the most expensive wigs ever made for a tv show at that time. It was also incredibly painful to wear apparently. When Nellie grew up and left the show, the wig was passed on to the Nellie imitator who came after her (Nancy, adopted by the Oleson’s. Remember that plot twist?).

The bulk of the book is stories from the set, the background of shooting certain episodes, and life as Nellie Oleson. It is really the book that Little House fans would probably all love (if you don’t mind cussing) because it shares the behind-the-scenes stuff with genuine affection and enjoyment. There is no snide disdain from Arngrim about her childhood role: she loved playing Nellie and likes to talk about it. And she chose her topics with an eye toward answering her most frequently asked questions about the show. This is a valentine to her fans.

Arngrim’s life after Little House has been one of activism and she is a kick-ass representative for the HIV/AIDS community and sexual abuse survivors. She lists info about charities she’s worked with in the appendix to the book. Today she does her one-woman show Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and lives with her husband Bob. And I wish she was my friend so I could hang out with her. She’s just that awesome.

Buy the book here!

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11 comments for “Book Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

  1. November 10, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Please get an Amazon affiliate account so you can make .05 when I buy this book on your recommendation!!!!! 🙂 Thanks for the rec, I needed a new good read! xoxo

  2. November 10, 2010 at 7:57 am

    PS And if her show comes to DC? I’m IN for going to see it! BTW, I still use “Nellie” as a verb. Daily. “That mom was so rude at preschool pickup but I did a Nellie on her and she stepped off.”

  3. Erica Snipes
    November 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

    LOVE your book reviews, and I enjoyed the Kristen Chenowith memoir so much that I’m going to HAVE to request this one from our local library too. Thanks for the review…I’m sure I’ll love the book, although clearly I should bow to the masters of Little House knowledge. I enjoyed watching it in syndication, though, when I could. I liked the episodes when Laura was grown up and married, and I also liked the episode where Mary’s husband was able to see again and went to law school or sat for the bar exam? Which was it…in any event, it’ll be fun to read this Nellie book, for sure! Thanks!

  4. November 10, 2010 at 11:08 am

    OMG! My best friend (as a child) totally lived, ate and breathed Little House on the Prairie. We had to play it every single day. The sad part was I was raised in a NO TV household and had NO idea what went on in the show (I had only read the books) so I was always lost. Her obsession lasted several years, I was so grateful when she moved on to Anne of Green Gables (except I soon realized due to the NO TV household, I was ignorant of this show as well) 🙂

  5. November 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Convinced. Heading to the library today. Also, will start using “pulled a Nellie on her” in regular conversation.

  6. November 10, 2010 at 11:17 am

    BTW, your new header looks great! I think I actually kind of like it more than the old one.

  7. amy
    November 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I read all three books, memoirs whatever from Melissa Sue Anderson(boring and not very exciting, like a synopsis of each season), MElissa Gilberts(Read this) and Alison Arngrim. I want to be her friend too. She is awesome!!

  8. KLZ
    November 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Well, that’s kind of refreshing to hear about an actress.

  9. November 10, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I’m totally wanting to read this book. brb, going to download it to my kindle app

  10. November 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I totally agree with your review. It was an awesome book and I recommend it to everyone. I mean, everyone has watched Little House at one time or another. I was surprised to learn that Melissa Sue Anderson was unfriendly, that Michael Landon and the crew drank all day long and that Pa often didn’t wear underwear!

    Love your reviews!

  11. Erica Snipes
    December 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Book finally came in at the library and am reading it now–awesome! Thanks for the review, totally agree! 🙂

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