House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

HarperCollins Publishers,
New York
February 5, 2013
Hardback, 233 pages

 –cover for House of Earth
I feel like I’m late to the ballgame (I’m listening to the World Series), but I’m glad I finally read Woody Guthrie’s novel, House of Earth, that was published earlier in the year. This piece of art was written by Guthrie in 1947. Thanks to the effort of many, including the editors, Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp, the folk singer/activist’s book was published after being discovered in filmmaker Irving Lerner‘s papers. Guthrie figured his manuscript would have a good chance at being a low-budget movie rather than a book. According to the editors, the sensuous scenes between the two main characters might have been one of the reasons he did not fervently try to get published. Also, the book might have been a little too liberal for the Truman era.
House of Earth tells the story of a year or so in the lives of a couple, Tike and Ella May Hamlin, that live in the Texas Panhandle and constantly face adverse conditions from the weather, the land, the landowner, and the wind and dust of the plains. Of course, Guthrie used Tike as his spokesperson to get in all of his philosophies: rich vs. poor, government vs. the common man, farmers vs. the weather, husband vs. wife. The list goes on. The most emphasized adversarial relationship is that of wood vs. adobe. Tike sends off for a government pamphlet that explains in detail how to make an adobe house, one that will be warm in winter, cool in summer, protect against the wind and the dust, and one that will not rot. Tike is excited about his house of earth, and reads and rereads the instructions. The sad reality is that he and Ella May have not any plot of land that they own to actually build this house, and their efforts to obtain this land are thwarted again and again by outside forces.

I think that as the middle class is currently shrinking, this book is relevant now more than ever. No solutions are really offered, or none that were and are probably never bound to happen, but there’s much to think about after reading this book–like helping the downtrodden, downsizing and living more minimally, reflecting on Guthrie as a man before his time, and just enjoying the writing in the vernacular, the writing about social issues, the melodic and poetic and lyrical writing, and the developed characterizations. Guthrie’s artwork seen on the cover and at the beginning of the four chapters is another bonus to the book.
–Woody Guthrie, back cover image for House of Earth

Some examples of Guthrie’s prose:

“Tike was a medium man, medium wise and medium ignorant, wise in the lessons taught by fighting the weather and working the land, wise in the tricks of the men, women, animals, and all of the other things of nature, wise to guess a blizzard, a rainstorm, dry spell, the quick change of the hard wind, wise as to how to make friends, and how to fight enemies.”

“The ways and the laws that people used to judge one another did not lie in any one certain mold. The people knew the other people. They knew the all good, the half good, the three-fourths good, and the nine-tenths good. One would have six faults and no good. Another had three good habits and four bad ones. Another had eleven sins and twelve virtues. This one, two vices and one streak of honesty. The next one, fair in some things and no-account in others. The next one, all right when the wind is in the east. The next one was a good man while his wife done his thinking. Another one was a hard worker but trailed loose women. And others had their won mixtures of the good and the bad and their makeup was as well known to the others as the times to plow and to plant and to cut and to gather. There were a few people around who fought, drank, gambled, fornicated, trifled, told lies, and cheated, but were so outright and so honest about it that Tike and Ella May either one would lend them their last coin or feed them or shelter them at any time, because they paid them back sooner than lots of the ones that claimed to be so holy.”

“She leaned her head over in a new position against the bedstead and folded her hands over his forehead, and she sighed, grunted in a tired way, and said, ‘Tike.’
‘Mmm?’ He smoked.
‘Everywhere that you look, do you see me?’
‘Huh? Oh. guess so. How come you to ask? Yeah. I guess I do. I guess I do at that. Hmm. Never did just think of it like that before, but I reckon since you mentioned it, I s’pose that I do. Why?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I was just leaning back here, enjoying of my aches and miseries, and just thinking.’
‘Just thinking that I’ve always seen you in this way.’
‘I always did. And I don’t really know why. When I look out across the country I see you. Out across the farm I see you. Out across the room here I see you. And I guess that the experts that know about such things would say, Oh well, it is just because I loved you. And so I guess it is. I guess it is why. But I’m just sitting her and thinking.’
‘Just trying to figure. Just figuring and figuring and figuring. Trying to figure out just some one little teensy-weensy reason why I should have to love you so much.’
‘Ha. Ya. You got me fooled there, Lady.'”
–chapter illustration by Woody Guthrie in House of Earth

For participating in TLC Book Tours blog tour of House of Earth, I received a free hardback copy of the book. My opinions are my own.

Click HERE for the complete tour schedule.

  2 comments for “House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

  1. November 1, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    I love the excerpts you included – there’s something very appealing about his writing.

    Thank for being on the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

    • November 1, 2013 at 11:54 PM

      Thank you so much, Heather!

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