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Last Updated: Jun 20, 2015 - 8:14:46 PM 

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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "House of Earth" by the late Woody Guthrie
By Milton M. Gross
Jun 20, 2015 - 8:14:45 PM

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This book, House of Earth, leads me to believe that Woody Guthrie was a much better singer than he was a writer. I found the understood topic, building houses from mud bricks, ten inches wide, fourteen inches long,and four inches high to raise the standard of living for Texans during the Dust Bowl from rickety shacks to solid houses, to be overstated -- repeated over and over. Milt Gross photo.
Singer Woody Guthrie apparently wrote this book to promote building houses in Dust Bowl-era Texas from mud bricks, an improvement over the rickey wooden shacks most residents called home.

The lead couple in this fiction tale, Tike and Ella May Hamlin, live in a "precarious wooden farm shack," as the back cover of the book describes it. The theme of the book is Tike's desire to replace his and Ella's shack with a house of earth, earth being mud bricks.

They live on land that they don't own, and a fair amount of the book is a criticism of large landowners, "ranching conglomerates and banks," the back cover states.

I felt the book to be fairly poor writing with the theme repeated over and over. Ella May has a baby, and a mid-wife aids with this typical ordeal of those living in Dust Bowl-era Texas. This and other parts of the story seem to be a recital of what most poor folks living in that hard part of the world experienced. I didn't find the book heading toward a conclusion of any type. The end of the tale relates Tike's singing a ballad, perhaps similar to what Guthrie did best, that goes in part,

"Little Grasshopper when he was a baby

Well, he hopped up on his mommy's knee

And he grabbed up a tractor in his right hand

Says, 'Tractor be th' death of me! Oh, God!

Tractor be th' death of me!'"

That ballad seems to be a very shortened version of the book.

Guthrie, who lived from 1912 to 1967, was an American folk song singer, whose best known song was the well-known "This Land Is Your Land." The back cover of the book states that Guthrie's "legacy" included over 3,000 songs with themes of history, politics, culture, spiritual, narrative and children's interests.

Like many, who lived through the 1960s, I think "This Land is Your Land" is a musical cry for Americans to understand that the country is not for the wealthy who owned much of it but for everyday people.

Edited and introduced by professor Douglas Brinkley and actor, producer, and musician Johnny Depp, the book was copyrighted in 2013 and published by HarperCollins Publishers, New York. A price listed in the book is $15.99, and Amazon.com lists the paperback at $13.02 and the Kindle Edition for $10.99.

I don't particularly recommend the book, as I don't think the writing is that good, even though I really enjoyed Guthrie's singing.


Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014


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