Monday, January 07, 2013

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

I'm back!  First a review . . . 

One year.  And what is a year?  A Year is something that can be added on, but it can never be taken away.  Yes, added on, earmarked and tagged, counted in signs of dollars and cents, wrote down the income column and across the page with names, and photos can be taken of faces and clipped onto the papers, and the prints of the new baby's feet can be stamped on the papers of the birth, and the print of the thumb going back to work can be stamped onto the papers to say it is a good place to work.  And a year is work.  A year is that nervous craving to do your good job and draw down your good pay, and to join your good union.

And a year of work is three hundred and sixty-four, or five, or six days of the run, the hurry, the walking, the bouncing, and the jumping up and down, the arguments, fights, the liquor brawls, hangovers, headaches, and all.  Work takes in all climates, all things, all rooms, all furrows, all streets, all sidewalks, and all the shoes that tramp on them.  The whirl and roll of planets do not make a year a year, nor the breath of the trifling wind, changing from cold to hot, forming steam back into ice.  Oceans of waters that flow down from the tops of the Smokies and roll in the sea, they help some to make a year a year, but they don't make the year.

--from pp. 101-102 of House of Earth (Uncorrected Proof - some changes may be made to the final print version)

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie is a February 2013 release from Harper, so I jumped the gun a bit by reading it in December.  But I'm from Oklahoma, we claim Woody, and I was reading a book about the Dust Bowl at the time (although I didn't finish it) so I really, really wanted to read a novel set during the Dust Bowl.

As it turned out, I had a terrible time getting into House of Earth and, in fact, fell asleep reading it every day for about a week.  Had I not made it to the final section of the book (and I did consider abandoning House of Earth numerous times), I would have missed the best part.

In the beginning, Tike and Ella May Hamlin muse about their dream to buy a parcel of land on which to farm and build an adobe house, even while having sex -- for about 32 pages or so.  And, then pretty much all they talk about is the farm, their dreams, work that needs to be done and sex, sex, sex.  There is one point when Tike shouts at the house and you get the initial hint that this moment is not about the house alone but an expression of his frustration at being stuck in a dead-end cycle of poverty, living as a sharecropper and renting a falling-down house from a wealthy man who is not about to sell a workable piece of land and lose his regular income.  

I confess I may not have caught the meaning at that point, if not for the introductory notes, although eventually the symbolism is clarified.  At any rate, Ella May is happy, even though she's taken a major step down in the world by marrying Tike; and, later you'll find out why.

The first 2/3 or so of House of Earth is so buried in Tike's sexual urges and Ella May's cutesy responses that I found it difficult to see through to the purpose of the story.  But, in the final section a year has passed.  Ella May is bursting with child.  It's winter and Ella May is fiercely determined to make a new life for the family.  Now, sharecropping is no longer a tolerable inconvenience but a danger for her coming child, who will have to live with dust and wind coming through the walls.  That fine dust from ruined fields caused a kind of pneumonia that could kill.

During the final section of House of Earth, it seemed to me that all the symbolism buried earlier in the book went from fuzzy to overt and I could look back at the story and understand how the adobe house Tike wanted to build not only represented their dreams but the concept of self-sufficiency as a basic tenet of life that all people deserve to attain with hard work.

However, Tike was so very, very irritating that I gave the book an average rating at Goodreads, even though I felt like House of Earth was deeply meaningful, in the end.  The huge amount of sex talk was exhausting.  No wonder I kept falling asleep.  Maybe all that sex and sex talk was a parallel to the concept of the desire to give birth to the dream of owning their own home and land, growing things on it, etc.?  

At any rate, I was so startled by the clarity of the final section and how it pulled everything together that I considered giving the book a high rating on that basis alone. And, you can see from the quote above that House of Earth definitely had its moments. But, I decided in hindsight it would be crazy to highly recommend a book that fell into the sedative category till the final 40 pages.

3/5 - Recommended only to people who can tolerate lengthy sex scenes and appreciate symbolism.  Boring to me, till the final section, which pretty much knocked my socks off.  There is little about the Dust Bowl, itself; it is a setting -- maybe even an allegorical character, nature as the force of poverty, both unrelenting.  There's a lot of merit to House of Earth but too much that I detested about it.  One more fun quote:

". . . Ahhh. Ding bust this dad-ratted old dod-rotted radio to the south pole and back, anyhow!"

p. 110

In other news:

  • I planned on staying on Holiday Blogging Break till Kiddo goes back to school but he still has a full two weeks before classes begin and my sidebar was getting a little on the heavy side with 11 books read since I wrapped up posting in 2012.  So, here I am.
  • When Blogger forced the new interface on us (no, I still don't love it, although there are some features that are definite improvements) they narrowed the colors available for highlighting text.  I'd noticed that, but this is the first time I've gone looking for brown and realized there are no brown shades at all.  The color I used to highlight House of Earth is as brown as it gets, that nasty yellow ochre the darkest shade of yellow available.  Yeeeuck.
  • I'm reading The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley (another February release, from WilliamMorrow) and I think it might be a good one for group discussion if you don't mind getting into controversial territory.  I'll likely finish that, tonight.  Can't seem to put it down.
  • I've had no luck loading videos at YouTube, recently (I get an error message, every time) but I have a tremendously fun video of Isabel watching the Christmas train go round and round the tree, batting at it and occasionally going around the tree in the opposite direction to watch it coming toward her.  She was utterly fascinated with the train. Trust me, you'd love it.  
  • I've bought and received a few books during my break (and have a big sack ready to donate).  I'll try to gather the new arrivals for a portrait, soon.  Usually, I have a specific shelf for incoming books but it's just become The Cookbook Shelf.  My husband has an affinity for Very Fat Cookbooks.  I shall have to adapt.

How is 2013 going for you, so far?

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. See, this is why I don't just stop reading a book. Even if it's awful you never know how it will end. Still, this one doesn't sound like it's for me.

    1. Yes, that was one of the reasons I used to force myself to finish absolutely every book. The other reason had to do with the fact that my library doesn't tend to carry the books I like to read. But, now . . . really, I only read to the end if I am in some way convinced things are going to improve or the book is fairly short. House of Earth is fairly short, otherwise I'd probably have DNF'd it and missed out on a terrific ending. I'm too old to waste time reading bad books, ya know.

      Yeah, I don't think House of Earth is for you in some ways, although you'd love it for the symbolism. :)

  2. Well I for one am glad to see you back early ;) I'm surprised you made it through a book with lengthy sex scenes! Don't know if this is one I'll read or not, but I have to say you've intrigued me ;) And I would LOVE to see that Fiona video :D Happy 2013 to you my dear!

    1. Why, thank you, dear. :) I'm kind of surprised I made it through that first sex scene, really. I guess I figured after a 32-page sex scene, that would be the end of it. It turned out there's a lot of playful sex chatter and baby talk. Gah! I can't bear to even think about that part. The end is so good, though! And, it did have its deep moments that I appreciated.

      Ah, I wish I could get videos to load. You would love it. Happy 2013, Chris!!!

  3. And this is why I quit on books that aren't pulling me in. To suffer all that time only to give it a ho-hum rating? Nope. I have too many that I want to read. With that said, I think I usually get a sense of a book after a few chapters and have some gut feeling that it might have potential. That's when I decide to stick with it to see if it improves. But this one does not sound like one of those. ;)

    I've been working on my "old" stacks and have given up on several and finally settled on one. My donation box is growing, but it feels good to see some space appearing on those crowded shelves!

    1. Yes, same here. I think there just comes a point that you realize you're too old to waste your time when there are so many other books waiting! But, I tend to stick things out a little longer than you do. Honestly, I think my frequent DNF-ing is the reason 2012 was such a knock-out year. I finished a handful of books I didn't love, but the vast majority were books I either liked or loved. Same here; I think you can generally judge a book by about page 30, although I usually give them 50 pages. I will still abandon a book as far as 2/3 of the way in, if it's not holding any promise.

      I'm mixing mine up, so far -- older ARCs, books off the shelves, new arrivals. I'm loving my reading year, again. Open shelf space is awesome.

  4. I'm not sure that I would be able to stick with this one, or to have to wait for the last 40 pages for things to come alight for me. It sounds terribly dark and dank, and I am not really sure that's what I want to be reading nowadays anyway!! I love that I have my own template as well, because that means that all these changes on blogger don't really affect me all that much. And also, I would have loved to see the video!

    1. It's not really dark at all, actually. There's a lot of teasing and, of course, the sex. It's just set on a backdrop of poverty. They're actually quite hopeful about the future. In fact, it's a little darker when the baby is coming. But, that last part is so amazing. I would never force this book into anyone's hands because it put me to sleep for so many days in a row (very, very unusual!!!) but, if anything, it makes quite a stunning political statement about everyone deserving to share in the wealth if they're working equally hard. Guthrie was a Socialist. I'm sure it has its audience; I just wasn't among them and you might not be, either.

      I wish I could show you the video! Oh, well. Maybe a snapshot or two in a future post.

  5. I sure like his music but I don’t think that his book would be for me. I just finished The World of Downton Abbey 2 days ago that my daughter gave me for Christmas. I am trying to finish a couple of books that I had started earlier, and I also placed 2 books on reserve at the Library. Buying books gets to be expensive even if I buy them from Abe – do you buy all your books?

    1. I love his music, too. The World of Downton Abbey is fun, isn't it?

      Book-buying-wise, I don't buy a lot of books, anymore. House of Earth is an uncorrected proof that was sent by the publisher and I get plenty of those, but most of my books are used, were bought years ago or are swap books (I use PaperbackSwap and trade with friends). I started collecting books when I was a young married and have such a house full that I get rid of more than I take in, these days. They do get expensive, even buying used. When I still bought a lot of books, I mostly got them from our library sales (dirt cheap!), Book Closeouts (online) and Borders (*sob* -- still miss Borders). I also browsed thrift stores, on occasion. In fact, my neighbor works in a thrift shop and recently told me they have a little trouble getting rid of books but they do have a few regular buyers who have confessed to selling them online. So . . . you might try thrift stores! :)


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!