Monday, February 25, 2013

Lori Writes Three Mini-Reviews

Title: House of Earth
Author: Woody Guthrie with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp
Published: Harper Collins, 2013
Where I Got It:  The publisher sent it to me for review

I was SO excited when I received the opportunity to review this book and I became even more excited as I read the extensive introduction and became aware of the personal connection with the book.  So...Woody Guthrie is a well-known Oklahoman who wrote many folk songs, including "This Land Is Your Land."  As a young adult, he moved to Pampa, Texas, an area that was heavily hit by the Dust Bowl during the Depression.  My grandparents actually lived about 30 miles from Pampa, so they were geographically very close to the action of the story.  Guthrie wrote the novel in the 1940s, after the events already took place.  The manuscript was lost in Irving Lerner's papers, recently discovered by the archivists at the University of Tulsa.  But as the content of the story shows, the world probably was not ready to read this novel during the Truman era.  However, as economic turmoil and the environment are becoming more and more central to today's discussion, the world was finally ready to read this book.   The story that Guthrie wrote was very touching and is one I will definitely read again in the future.

Guthrie lived in Pampa during the infamously horrible Black Sunday dust storm that occurred in April 1935.  As he survived the storm, Guthrie realized (as the introduction points out) that humans need three things to live--food, water, and shelter.  He chose to write on the third element.  Guthrie began researching the strength of adobe construction and concluded that that type of home would best suit those remaining in the areas afflicted by the Dust Bowl.  But these people rarely owned their own land, and were unable to build permanent structures.  The novel is a call to arms for people to turn on the evil business owners, the bankers who owned the land, and Big Agriculture that destroyed the land.

While Steinbeck wrote about those who gave up and left Oklahoma, Texas, and other afflicted areas, Guthrie wrote about those who were stubborn and brave enough to stay behind and tough it out.  The novel focuses on Tike and Ella May Hamlin, farmers who want a better life for themselves in the face of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Tike gets the idea of building an adobe house, but is unable to do so because he does not own his own land.  Central themes to the novel include undying hope in the wake of endless struggling, the abuse of the grasslands by man, and is a socialist call to arms against oppression--all themes still relevant today.  Guthrie explores these topics with a voice that shows his connection with the place and people he's writing about.

A wonderful read for anyone interested in the Great Depression, literature with a social conscience, or fans of Woody Guthrie.

Title: The Real Jane Austen:  A Life in Small Things
Author: Paula Byrne
Published: Harper Collins, 2013
Where I Got It:  The publisher sent it to me for review

This was a very interesting biography for fans of Jane Austen to read.  I'm not going to discuss the actual content of the biography because that could get out of hand.  Instead, I will comment on the approach to the biography.  Byrne takes a unique approach by exploring Austen's life and writing through various themes or moments, which range from her father's religious views to her life in Bath to her struggle to become published.  Each theme is tied to a particular object, such as vellum notebooks and a royalty check.  Byrne ties together Austen's life and her work throughout the biography, including many quotations from Austen's novels.

I am not sure how this biography compares to others on Jane Austen, but I think that this is a fantastic approach to writing a biography and should really set it apart.  It's really the approach that makes the work stand out--Jane's life wasn't exactly action-packed, after all.  

The main issue that I have with the biography is one that many of Austen's biographers have had--there was not a whole lot of documented primary evidence on which to base some of the claims about the author. This, of course, is not indicative of a weakness on Byrne's part.

I think that a good basis of knowledge on Austen is necessary to most fully appreciate the biography, but I think it would be a pleasurable read for anyone who was interested.

Title: Frances and Bernard
Author: Carlene Bauer
Published:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Where I Got It:  I bought this myself after a Twitter acquaintance recommended it.

I love, love, loved this book!  I read it in two sittings.  I devoured this book like I haven't devoured something in quite a while.

What's it about?  It's about two author--Frances, a novelist, and Bernard, a poet--who met at a writers' colony and started up a correspondence.  It's an epistolary novel, primarily comprised of the letters between Frances and Bernard, but with letters to their friends to flesh out the story.  What begins as a few letters between people who barely know each other quickly becomes a correspondence that can change the lives of the participants.  The story is based on Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell.

I loved the voices that Bauer created in this novel.  Frances and Bernard both spoke with such depth and individuality, which is difficult to do when creating characters of the opposite sex and when switching between speakers.  She does not let the voices of the two characters become confused or mixed up--they remain distinct.  Though a story about relationships on the surface, the story is more about human growth and the process of truly finding oneself.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves books about books.  So good!


  1. These all sound really interesting - I like Woody Guthrie but I've never read much about his background. I am reading Persuasion at the moment, and I recently read Pride and Prejudice, so I'll keep this Austen bio in mind!

  2. The Jane Austen biography sounds interesting -- I'll put it on my list to check out. I recently was able to visit the Jane Austen Center in Bath and learned a lot more then I originally knew about her, but I'd still like to know more!

  3. Ooh, Frances and Bernard sounds like a great read! I'm adding that to my list.

  4. Yay! I'm about to start Frances & Bernard - really looking forward to it now.

  5. Frances and Bernard sounds really great! I've become more interested in reading books that take letter form. I'm adding it to Goodreads now!

  6. The real jane austen sounds very different..will try it out..loved your tuesday meme, intend to join in.


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