As usual, I'm re-reading one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.

As usual, I'm re-reading one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.

I say "as usual" because although I read these books as a child, and read them again to my own daughters, I continue to return to one or another of them with a regularity that you might call touching, if you didn't call me touched.

The Little House books make wonderful reading all by themselves. Thanks to them, I know how to make maple syrup candy, though I would never do it, and I know how to turn milk into butter, though I would never do that either, and I know what it's like to fry up a pig's tail, because that's the sort of thing these books describe so well.

But they aren't the only books I'm reading. At the moment I'm also carrying around "The Book Thief," a grim but gripping story of a girl living in Nazi Germany, and I always have a New York Times Sunday edition staring me down from its place near my favorite chair.

"Why buy me if you aren't going to read me?" the Times asks, and I avert my eyes.

When I do, I see one of several Internet home pages, each one offering a million -- no, a zillion -- ways to distract me, to keep me from working, to scare me, to depress me.

In just one click I could read about "Last night on TV," "Shooting at synagogue," or "Levi Johnston's 'Playgirl' shots."

"'Playgirl' still exists?" I pause to wonder, but not for long, because I see I could learn "Body language dos and don'ts," "5 secrets to staying young" or "7 Things to Know about Windows 7." (Funny, there's more to know about Windows 7 than about staying young.)

Every so often, I do read one of these stories. Certainly not "Jackson autopsy pic leaked," and not a video about "Jon and Octomom," but other dumb yet intriguing items. For instance, "Who invented candy corn?" I might be curious enough to click on that. (But I'll save you the trouble. It was George Renninger, of the Wunderle Candy Co.)

Even as I'm clicking, though, even as I'm reading about how George intended candy corn's three colors to resemble actual corn, I'm annoyed. I didn't wake up wondering about the origin of candy corn. I have no reason to know it; give me a day and I probably won't be able to recall how I came by my knowledge.

Still, there it is, lodged in my brain like a white, orange and yellow bullet. "Candy corn is mostly sugar, corn syrup and honey," I think in disgust. Not that I didn't already know that, mostly, and except for the honey, but I didn't need or want to really know it, any more than I needed or wanted to know some tidbit about Miley Cyrus, or which dead celebrity earns the most money or whether or not Wayne Newton is retiring, for heaven's sake.

Yet I do know all this. You know it too, I bet. We can't help knowing it; it's slipped into our line of sight as smoothly as a magician pulls a quarter from behind someone's ear. We have to know tons of useless information; it's a rule of the 21st century.

Laura Ingalls, who grew up in the late 19th century, didn't have this problem. She and her family knew only what they needed to know: How to build a house. How to make cheese. How to plump up a bed ticking filled with straw.

This is why I so often add a Little House book to the stack I carry with me from room to room. I like to keep that world nearby, just in case I need to jump into it.

I remember reading the end of "Little House in the Big Woods" to my daughters and my husband. We were in the car, on our way to visit relatives in Massachusetts, when I finished the final chapter. I could scarcely choke out the last eight words, and when I did, we drove for several miles before anyone could talk again.

"It can never be a long time ago."

Those are the last eight words. And it can, of course. It most definitely can.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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