Ash to Ash, Dust to…

Posted: April 6, 2013 in On Novels, On Poetry
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“The dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.” – John Steinbeck

The sandhills can get to be a pretty dry place. When the infamous Nebraska wind kicks up, innocent topsoil can turn into thousands of tiny needles pelting you all at once. And this is 80 years after the dust bowl. Sometimes you have to count your blessings, such as “I’m glad I don’t live in Oklahoma in the middle of a dust bowl” and “I’m glad I’m not a piano player with hands burnt to a crisp”. It’s all about perspective – today I am indeed a glass-half-full kind of person!

So, you guys hear about North Korea?

Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust had moments that made my heart ache. Trying to comprehend the weight of being inadvertantly responsible for the death of your mother and newborn brother? Being a musician with nothing left but the ability to play.. and having ruined hands? I felt like Billie Jo and Mel from Laurie Anderson’s Speak carried their burdens in the same fashion, Mel’s outlet being artwork and Billie Jo’s obviously being music. The sensation I felt myself feeling above anything else, and maybe this was just my imagination.. was dryness. Not boring-dry, but like “jesus help me someone get me some water” dry. Everytime Billie Jo writes of the thin layer of dust on the food they choke down, everytime the dust creeps in while they are trying to sleep protected under blankets – I lick my lips and look over at the fridge just to make sure it’s still there.

Above: You are getting verrrry thirsty.

I’ve already mentioned this on Twitter (laaaaaame) but Out of the Dust is essentially a novel in poem structure – and that kind of messes with my brain. Poetic structure instantly throws up red flags of “prepare for hard-to-understand-hyperbolic-bullshit!”, but when it actually starts telling a story, it throws my calibration all out of whack. Let me just say thank jebus that this was easily readable – and interesting to boot! I can totally see another author taking a whirl at this technique and just tearing it to shreds (it would probably have something to do with vampires. JUST SAYING.)

Above: Unrelated to the discussion at hand, but not unrelated to being a Literature major

While we’re here, I’m going to take the time to (ashamedly) mention that this is only like Newbery book #4 for me. I know. Let he who has read all the way through Moby Dick without falling asleep once cast the first stone! No one? No takers? I thought not! Here’s an interesting tidbit about me: when I decided to be a lit major, I only knew the barebones of literary analysis. I have not read half of the books every lit major probably “HAS” to have read by this point. And you know something? (arrogance switch: engage) I’m damn good at what I do. Ask me sometime what I think of half of the “classics” we’re force-fed from high school up. I can’t divulge here, but the answer will involve lots of swear words. I can pull just as much if not more meaning out of the entire Injustice comic book than I can out of The Scarlet Letter. There’s a difference between being classic and being less-shelf-space. Out of the Dust ranks as “classic” in my book. My book of books. Meta-booking, I’ll call it.





  1. lechatdu503 says:

    Meta-booking. I like it. More people need to do decide what books are important to them than just mindlessly agreeing with what ‘humanity’ decides is classic. Also, when I read Out of the Dust, I sometimes wonder about the imagery of a phoenix rising from the ashes (dust) of this ‘ruined’ farmland. Did you pick up on that? The hopefulness that persists no matter the fire, no matter the dust? I find it very remarkable. (I also enjoyed your comment “So, you guys hear about North Korea,” it made me smile.)

  2. brittanylenz says:

    Well done. I liked the first paragraph– I grew up in western NE and we only got out of school one day my entire high school career and it was for excessive winds…like 70 mph (wind chucking rocks type wind). But I guess, yeah, we need to be thankful we don’t live in OK or didn’t during the dust bowl. I can’t imagine the filth and suffocation they endured daily. And it was an easy read, with some good symbolic features (such as her hands) that was referenced throughout the book. Great job, your blogs are always entertaining.

  3. nikkijh24 says:

    As usual, I’m dying of laughter at this post. Hahaha. #micdrop #outtie

    Awesome. But for realsies. I would like to comment on the part about being at point in your life where there is a list of books that you should have already read. I always feel like the odd ball out sometimes being a senior English education major, and I read 8 super famous classics just last year because I was told to. Don’t get me wrong, I love classics,but I also love other books of my choice. I don’t like when people make you feel like there are books you should have already read. I’m with you–I haven’t read more than 5 newbery books, but I’m ok with that. I think since I’m going to be a teacher, I’m going to make it clear to my students that you don’t HAVE to read all the classics; just as long as your reading I really do not care!


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