I recently finished reading a gargantuan novel that, though it was good in parts, really made me yearn for some lightweight, fun reading. I had been meaning to read Melissa Gilbert’s memoir, Prairie Tale, for some time, but I never got around to ordering a copy. Luckily, my wonderful husband gave me a copy for my birthday, and I read through it in no time, gobbling up all of the insider TV stories and the juicy tidbits about her social life. This got me into both the memoir mood, and the 80s mood, so I ordered Molly Ringwald’s recent book, Getting the Pretty Back, before I had even finished Prairie Tale. I’m almost through with Molly’s book, and though I’m getting through it pretty quickly, I have to go ahead and call the winner of this smackdown: It’s Half-Pint, with a very solid lead.
Growing up, I never really liked Little House on the Prairie, mainly because it was so “old-fashioned.” This was before I was old enough to know how universal the themes of the show were, and how utterly easy it was to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of the Ingalls family. (It’s funny–I loved Holly Hobbie, but I hated the Ingalls girls–go figure!) As an older teen, when I was home in the summers, Little House was always on; at least two times per day, and once I saw the episodes where “Beth” and “Manly” started falling in love, that was it. I was hooked. Sure, Almanzo was older and kind of creepy, but he was a gentleman, and he loved Laura with all of his heart. And I wanted to have a love like that. Plus, that’s when Laura started to grow out of her awkwardness and into a beautiful young lady. I think all teenagers can relate to that. Laura was definitely much prettier than Mary in my eyes–traditional blonde, blue-eyed beauty doesn’t hold a candle to the freckled, red-headed non-traditional beauty of Laura.
As I got older, too, I was envious of Melissa Gilbert’s personal life. She dated Rob Lowe for years, and at that time, he was dreamy. This was pre-Democratic convention tape, of course. That Rob Lowe picked someone who was so unconventionally pretty gave girls like me hope. What did she have that captured such a hot guy, and what could I do to get it?
Prairie Tale seems to be pretty polarizing as far as reviews go, and many of the reviews on Amazon are from readers who are upset that all Gilbert did was “talk about herself.” It’s a MEMOIR, people. What did you expect? After reading the book, I think that writing it was something of a catharsis for her, and I also think that she has some good advice to share. She grew up troubled (mostly subconsciously) by the fact that her birth parents gave her up for adoption; she was in some bad relationships with men that were, for lack of a better word, toxic; she has fought and still battles alcoholism; and she just has some very interesting stories about life in Hollywood to share. There were a few small parts of the book in which I thought she was a bit annoying, but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I think she’s a smart, likable, real person who doesn’t candy-coat anything to make it sound more acceptable.
When I ordered Molly Ringwald’s book, I was under the impression that it had a little bit of “beauty” in it, but quite a lot of memoir. I had it backwards. There are passing references to stories from her past in the book, but not nearly as many as I had hoped. It didn’t have to be dirt, per se, but when I was a teenager, most every girl wanted to either be Molly Ringwald, or they wanted to be her best friend. And I wanted some behind the scenes stories about Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. I wanted to know what it was like being Molly Ringwald at the height of her career, and how she dealt with having basically no privacy and having everything she ever wanted likely at her disposal. However, what Molly wanted to write was a helpful book for women turning 40 who feel like they are aging, overworked, and not quite the spring chicken they used to be in their prime. A nice thought, but this book just didn’t quite work for me.
Yes, I was one of those that didn’t want to be Molly (too much pressure and attention)–I wanted to be her best friend. Access to parties, cute guys, movie sets, but not having to work in the public eye all of the time. Alas, Molly and I never crossed paths, so I didn’t have to worry about the pros and cons of being her best friend. Molly, like Melissa Gilbert, was also unconventionally pretty, and she often played the “semi-attractive” girl from the wrong side of the tracks, who tries to prove that she is worthy of something: a birthday party, a date with a senior, a date with a preppy jerk, what have you.
I could relate to that. I wasn’t overly popular in school. Though I wasn’t actually anything more than a bit chubby, a majority of the girls at my high school were stick thin, so I always thought I was ungainly and unattractive. And I was shy to top that off. I wanted a guy like Blaine to want to go out with me, but I really wanted a Duckie to love me. Granted, most of the guys I had crushes on in school were always Blaines and not Duckies, but that was because most of the nerdy guys were too shy to show who they really were, as was I. So I developed crushes on the cute guys that were more outgoing. But alas, I stray from my purpose here.
Molly’s book is charming in its own way, but I also feel like it’s a bit condescending when I’m reading it. Whereas Melissa Gilbert’s book felt like she was a friend confiding in me about any number of things, I feel like Molly is telling me how I should be living. The book is populated with clichéd quotes about love and beauty–quotes I pored over in high school when I was pining over someone or trying to make myself feel better. I think she means well, but I just don’t think that I’m the market she’s aiming for. I have an acquaintance who could really stand to gain by reading this book, as Molly discusses why women should steer clear of unavailable men, and why he just might not “be that into you.” Things that mature women have learned over the years, but that some women still might need a reminder about.
Molly talks about how to order bread and how not to cut cheese in France. She tells us which lipsticks are her favorites (all way out of my price range) and what items we must have in our wardrobes (all way out of my size or price range). I get the feeling that she really is a “Blaine-girl” and not the “Duckie-girl” I had imagined.
However, if you’re a huge Molly Ringwald fan, or if you really want her advice and input on how to get your pretty back, then I would recommend the book.
Congratulations, Half Pint! You done good, kid.
Now, next on my memoir list: Alison Arngram’s Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, out next month.
To order Prairie Tale:
To order Getting the Pretty Back:
To order Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: