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Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land Paperback – December 4, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Methodist University Press; 1st Southern Methodist University Press Ed edition (December 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0870744720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0870744723
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A kind of home-made book—imperfect like a handmade thing, a prize. It’s a galloping, spontaneous book, on occasion within whooping distance of that greatest and sweetest of country books, Ivan Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Notebook.” --The New York Times Book Review




Hard Scrabble is hard pastoral of the kind we have learned to recognize in Wordsworth, Frost, Hemingway, and Faulkner. It celebrates life in accommodation with a piece of the ‘given’ creation, a recalcitrant four hundred or so acres of Texas cedar brake, old field, and creek bottom which will require of any genuine resident all the character he can muster.” --Southwest Review




“His subjects are trees and brush, hired help, fences, soil, armadillos and other wildlife, flood and drought, local history, sheep and goats . . . and they come to us reshaped and reenlivened by his agreeably individual (and sometimes cranky) notions.” --The New Yorker

About the Author

JOHN GRAVES grew up in Fort Worth, graduated from Rice University, and received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. During World War II as a marine, he saw action in the Pacific and was wounded at Saipan. He taught briefly at the University of Texas in Austin, leaving to become a freelance writer, traveling to exotic places_Majorca and Tenerife, Spain; New York City; and New Mexico. In the late 1950s Graves returned to Texas, taught for a time at Texas Christian University, and purchased Hard Scrabble, the four hundred acres in Somervell County near Glen Rose where he has worked both as a farmer and a writer ever since. His stories and articles have appeared in such venues as The New Yorker, Town and Country, The Atlantic, Holiday, American Heritage, and Esquire. His best known work, Goodbye to a River, a personal and historical book based on an autumn canoe trip down a part of the Brazos about to be radically altered, was published by Knopf in 1960 and has been in print ever since. In 1980 Knopf brought out From a Limestone Ledge (now available from SMU Press), a collection of personal essays. In 2000, John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957_60 (now available from SMU Press) came out to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Goodbye to a River. Graves is a past president, senior member, and fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters, which honored him with the Carr P. Collins Award for both Goodbye to a River and Hard Scrabble.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on December 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
In 1960, at the age of 40 and after many years wondering the globe, Texas-born writer John Graves bought a worn-out patch of land in the hills south of Fort Worth. It began as something of a retreat and became a life-long attachment. This book, published in 1974, is a humorously thoughtful description of how this new landowner becomes equally owned by the land he has settled on.
Not a long book, it reads at a leisurely pace, as Graves traces the history of the land, once fertile and grass-covered. He tells what he knows of the numerous tribes of Native Americans who once lived on it, including the fierce Comanches. Then he characterizes the first settlers, who knew next to nothing about land stewardship and cared less, exhausting it with poor farming techniques, overgrazing, and a single-crop economy--cotton. We learn of the toll taken in depleted soil, diminished flood control, and the spread of cedar and scrub brush across former prairie. And we learn of the descendants of these early settlers, diminished by reduced circumstances, some of them making a living by cutting down cedar brakes into fence posts.
Having established the history of the land, Graves takes us on a tour of his farm, which he calls Hard Scrabble, describing in turn the fields and streams, the plant and animal life, the weather. Then he describes the long, slow process of reclaiming what he can of his 400 acres, clearing the land, building a house, barn, and other outbuildings, learning stone masonry and carpentry as he goes. In connection with this subject, there is a discourse on the industriousness and workmanship of Mexican laborers, all of them illegal, who help him with building, fencing, and fighting back the growth of unwanted brush and cedar.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Susan Heller on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Texan John Graves is not a man to shy away from challenges: he invites them. When he bought his little piece of Texas, he clearly knew he was in for a big one, but I am not sure if he was aware of how his accumulated knowledge of this land would shape the man he was becoming. This book takes you through the process of a bumpy courtship and the resulting marriage between a man and his land.

Already armed with a deep appreciation of Nature, he was able to slowly coax renewed vigor into this misused patch of land through his gentle nurturing of it.

The book is full of his personal adventurers such as stone masonry, animal husbandry, carpentry, and all the hazards inherent in farm life. All presented without regret, with humor and modesty. Inevitably he laments the encroachment of more urban activities as they threaten his bucolic existence. Yet he speaks of the duality of his own urban interactions and compares them to the realities of his rural lifestyle.

This book to me was as much about the man John Graves as it is about his subject, "Hard Scrabble". Tough and complex, like his Patch of Land, he personifies the best Texas has to offer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bradley R Stephenson on October 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
After reading a recent article about John Graves in Texas Monthly, decided to check out his books Hard Scrabble and Goodbye to A River. I like his no-nonsense approach to life and his writing. I think he captures the feeling of folks born between 1900 and 1920, the WWII, Depression generation as his attitude and reflections remind me of things I've heard from folks of that generation. He definitely gives a Texas flavor given his roots in Texas and I'd guess there are still many folks like him scattered in the rural parts of Texas. The straight-forward, keep your head down, stoic, hardworking, keep your emotions to yourself characteristics of the WWII/ Depression generation contributed to our nation's success during the 20th century. Of course, Graves has his own, unique, take on things. But overall it is a good read, especially for those who find they also contemplate the meaning of life when they are surrounded by nature, and have a propensity to long for a simpler time without all of the distractions of modern life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jim Misko on May 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Hard Scrabble takes you by your senses and mind and leads you to meet the land and people of East Texas. If you don't read Chapter 10 over and over, you will miss out on what this word master has put together--a lasting story for the ages. I breathe in the air and my eyes moisten as I read Johns prose. You will want all of his books for they stir men's souls.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lynda DeGroot on March 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got this book for my husband who is a voracious reader. He loves history and stories about life in our country...whether these stories are based on true accounts of early explorers or people who wrote about their experiences living on the land and so on. He says it was a "good read" and really enjoyed it.
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