Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time first crossed my radar when I read that it had been awarded the National Book Award several months ago. The subtitle of the book continues, "The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dustbowl." My grandmother left Texas, where she was born, and moved to Mississippi during the Depression to get away from the Dust Bowl. I only recently learned about this when she was telling people about herself when she visited us here in October.

I do not consider myself a history buff, although I've become more interested in histories, and certainly biographies. I'm a people buff. I love to read about how people respond to challenging situations. I think that this can help me understand others who have had similar experiences better (specifically my grandparents and those of their generation). This book is straight non-fiction--no doubt. If you don't enjoy non-fiction, at all, ever, don't even attempt to read this book. However, if you are fascinated by the Depression (as I am--I mean, what is it that enabled people to go on, year after year, with no hope at all?), or if you are interested in the early American homestead movement, specifically in the great plains of Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas, which is covered as an introduction, or if weather patterns intrigue you, then I invite you to tackle this informative and entertaining book.

Tim Egan tells the story mostly through a group of people who settled in Dalhart, Texas. The reader experiences the worst hard time of the dust bowl through the farmers, teachers, pioneers, newspapermen, doctors, husbands, wives and children who lived it. For a story that some might see as dry, and one that is certainly packed with informative details, there is a definite narrative thread throughout. I learned about the static electricity that was so great that people couldn't shake hands because it knocked them down. I heard about dust drifts that buried cars that were useless because there was no money to put gas into them. I discovered why soil conservation is so important and why the government had to get involved.

I don't remember if Timothy Egan said it, or if he was quoting someone, but this book is a story of "the Boom, Bust, then the Dust." If you can't tell, I really enjoyed this book. It was my first audiobook listen, and while it was sometimes hard because I couldn't take notes or mark passages that interested me, I think that it is a good genre for me to enjoy listening to, as opposed to reading. It took eleven hours, and I finished it in around a month, taking advantage of that driving time in the car and housekeeping (OK, mostly driving). If I had been reading it, as interesting as I found it, I'm not sure that I would have stuck with it. As I was choosing the book I was going to download next, I explored The Great Influenza (really, it is supposed to be wonderful--has anyone read it?), and The Wisdom of Crowds, but finally settled on Every Mother Is a Daughter which is memoir written by a mother and a daughter. This book actually is increasing my housekeeping time, because I want excuses to plug in and listen. Review coming soon. . . .

Title: The Worst Hard Time
Author: Timothy Egan
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Date: 2006
Pages: 352 (but listened to the audio version: 11 hours)
Book Source: Audio download from
Recommended for those interested in straight history (early American), specifically the 20's and 30's, farming or agriculture, or the history of Texas and Oklahoma.

This review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Link up any review that you've posted on your own blog this week, or just click over and see what everyone is reading.


Cathy said...

Thanks for sharing this review. Our book club is reading this for our March meeting. As a nonfiction reader, I look forward to reading this.

nina said...

As a follow up to this book you might like reading "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse. She won the Newbery for it several years ago. I don't recommend it for younger readers but the story gives you a sense of the dust bowl in brief sketches. It is a book you would want to preread before allowing a child to read it.

Also, thanks for the tip about house work and I listen to different podcasts when I walk at the gym but I never considered it for housework. I going to check out

Carrie said...

Hey Jennifer!

Our online bookclub (Bookfest) is reading this book in April. I was kinda leery about it as I typically don't like straight non-fiction. However, your book review encouraged me that it will be worth the read. Thanks!

Susanne said...

I like books like this too, for the same reasons. I love to see what makes people tick and how they respond to situations goin on around them. I'll be adding this to my list.

Sherry said...

I have this book on my TBR list already, but I am intrigued by your listening to the book. You download it onto your iPod and listen. Is that right?
I don't have one of those new-fangled gadgets, but I may have to invest.

Kevin Stilley said...

I am presently reading The Grapes of Wrath, this sounds like a good book to follow that.

I am curious about I rarely use my mp3 player, but I like to download to a disk that I can listen to in my vehicle CD player. Do they allow you to download to disk?

Katrina said...

You know I'm not into history books very much, but this does sound interesting. And I agree -- I think it would be much easier for me to listen to a history book than to sit down and read through it. Thanks for the review.

e-Mom said...

This sounds like a good read. I like your strategy of listening while you do housework. I have several interior painting projects ahead, and anticipating the boredom factor was getting me down. I think I'll pick up a few audio books!!! Thanks Jennifer. :~)