Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Grass: Four Variations

No Blade of Grass
by John Christropher

Dystopic science fiction of a high caliber.  In this chilling, prophetic novel, the end of mankind begins with a break in the ecological chain: an Asiatic virus . . . destroys the grass and grain supply of the entire world. In the ensuing panic, mass slaughter begins as nations exterminate some of their own citizens so that others might live.  It is an unusual and absorbing piece of science-fiction about the relentless transformation of England when the balance of nature is upset.

Leaves of Grass
by Walt Whitman

"I sing the body electric"

Whitman is today regarded as America's Homer or Dante, and his work the touchstone for literary originality in the New World. In Leaves of Grass, he abandoned the rules of traditional poetry - breaking the standard metered line, discarding the obligatory rhyming scheme, and using the vernacular. I read this most recently as part of a weekend retreat sponsored by the University of Chicago's Basic Program of Liberal Education.  The music of his poetry was present as it is in the many authors who Whitman influenced.
Emily Dickinson condemned his sexual and physiological allusions as `disgraceful', but Emerson saw the book as the `most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed'. A century later it is his judgement of this autobiographical vision of the vigour of the American nation that has proved the more enduring.

All Grass Isn't Green
by Erle Stanley Gardner  (writing under the name A. A. Fair)

Detective fiction was never better than when Gardner was in his prime.  After making his creation Perry Mason into a household name he branched out under a pseudonym.  This effort featured dope smuggling and a witness who is both more, and less, than he seems in this suspenseful tale. Donald Lam, as a detective, is in stark contrast to the fictional hard-boiled types of his era. Donald is short, weighs 130 pounds soaking wet, and gets beat up quite frequently. While he does get into several fistfights, he loses all but one — a single fistfight against an insurance investigator in Double or Quits. It should be noted that this was only after taking boxing lessons and studying jujitsu with a master named Hashita in Gold Comes in Bricks.  Donald doesn't carry a gun because, as he says: A) "A gun, a good type of gun such as I would want to carry, costs money", and B) "People are always taking it away from me and beating me up" (meaning the gun). His primary weapon is his brain, not his brawn.

Girls in the Grass
by Melanie Rae Thon

Ranging across a uniquely American landscape, from rural Idaho and suburban Arizona to downtown Boston, the eleven stories in this eagerly awaited reissued collection explore with painful lyricism the harsh awakenings of adolescence: eroticism and hypocrisy, love and violence, responsibility and guilt, adult inconstancy and the random cruelty of life and death.  Melanie Rae Thon is a master of the short story.

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