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A Garden Grows Through It

A lot of ink has probably been spilled, many bytes submitted, and venerated juries assembled to celebrate the arrival of Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green: don’t be surprised if this celestial oddity hangs around long enough to benefit from a couple of Top Ten endorsements for the holidays. Then after? 

I like my books cheap, free whenever possible, but I snapped up this title for seventeen bucks because I tend to worry about stuff disappearing into great, gaping fissures in the cultural firmament when I am not looking, and also because this suddenly seemed like just the sort of book a person would need to own – to study and revisit and luxuriate in – if ever a person would need to own any books at all. At seventeen dollars, even here in this age when you can carry every song you’ve ever liked, and every picture you’ve ever taken, and every idle sentence you’ve ever written around with you in your pocket, this still seems to me as good a bargain as it was back when the only alternative entertainment was Saturday morning cartoons. Will somebody please tell me again why we keep trying to reinvent this medium?

“He was born a really long time ago – before computers or cell phones or television,” begins a boy about the grandpa of the title (actually a great grandfather) who remains unseen and a little mysterious until a couple of pages before the end – still I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here, because the end is never far from the beginning. It’s a pretty short book. And yet a long, eventful life unfolds in twenty-something pages; the pictures do most of the storytelling. First-time readers may feel a little perplexed at being introduced to a bawling, leafy baby seemingly rooted in the ground, but I think Smith’s meaning becomes clearer soon enough – through a little green man in a bowler hat taking shelter under an umbrella-shaped tree, a bunny, a wizard and lion carved out of the hedges, chickens and chicken pox (berries) – and anyway I’m not so sure Smith is ever really as interested here in our first impressions as our second, or tenth, or one-hundredth.

Because there is probably always something you’ve missed, no matter how many times you have been here. This strikes me as a pretty steep challenge – especially now I am older and more likely to revisit some barest, boring outline of myself – but I think Smith has managed it: with topiary dragons and pyramids, a couple carved high on the top of a wedding cake, a heart in the center of a maze – plus what’s that mossy looking elephant doing on the cover? Okay, you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. Let’s hope he’s still around when we get back.

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