Reading the Western Landscape Book Group
Located in Arboretum Library
About This Event
The Arboretum Library’s book group explores the portrayal of western North American landscape in fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry. The group generally meets the last Wednesday of the month in the Arboretum Library or out on the Arboretum grounds, weather and sunlight permitting. Some dates are not the last Wednesday. Check the dates below.
The group uses the Shared Inquiry™ method developed by the Great Books Foundation. The chosen book of the month must be read in order to participate.
New members are always welcome!
For more information about the Book Group, please contact, Arboretum Librarian, Susan Eubank, at 626-821-3213 or Susan.Eubank@Arboretum.org. Please RSVP to Susan if you plan to attend.
June 29, 2016
Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale, New York, NY: Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Reading [it] is to immerse oneself in a realm of roughneck, shoot-’em-up western writing where fact and fiction blend effortlessly on the page, & the action is only outgunned by the author’s tilt for beautiful literary prose. […] His writing keeps you riveted by fleet pacing, bawdy characters, sharp-witted banter, & enough action to stampede a cavalry train, but it’s never cheap, it’s never gratuitous. Instead he fills each page with heartbreak, suspense, hope, & laughter […]. [His characters are] fallible, impassioned, the type of people you could imagine filling your own life, only these characters are ratcheted up tenfold, magnifying the ugliness of their lusts, the shock of their misfortunes, the satisfaction of recompense. — Eric J. Guignard, New York Journal of Books
July 27, 2016
Daughter of Fortune by
“Valparaiso, Chile, is a cauldron of simmering contradictions in 1843. The wealthy British colonists and businessmen lord over the locals with their corseted social pretensions, at the same time relying desperately on the resourceful Chileans to survive in this vastly different world. […]Her characters are richly drawn and the setting is so carefully depicted, it’s as if you are transported to another place and time. […] Allende is a skilled social critic with a rapier wit, so things are not all as genteel they seem[…] […She] has created a masterpiece of historical fiction that is passionate, adventurous and brilliantly insightful. And right up to the end, it’s suspenseful and surprising. —Diane Carman, Denver Post
Orphaned at birth, Eliza Sommers is raised in the British colony of ValparaIso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her more rigid brother Jeremy. Just as she meets and falls in love with the wildly inappropriate JoaquIn Andieta, a lowly clerk who works for Jeremy, gold is discovered in the hills of northern California. By 1849, Chileans of every stripe have fallen prey to feverish dreams of wealth. Joaquin takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune, and Eliza, pregnant with his child, decides to follow him. So begins Isabel Allende’s enchanting new novel, Daughter of Fortune, her most ambitious work of fiction yet. As we follow her spirited heroine on a perilous journey north in the hold of a ship to the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco and northern California, we enter a world whose newly arrived inhabitants are driven mad by gold fever. A society of single men and prostitutes among whom Eliza moves–with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chien–California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence for the young Chilean. Her search for the elusive Joaquin gradually turns into another kind of journey that transforms her over time, and what began as a search for love ends up as the conquest of personal freedom. By the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is. Daughter of Fortune is a sweeping portrait of an era, a story rich in character, history, violence, and compassion. In Eliza, Allende has created one of her most appealing heroines, an adventurous, independent-minded, and highly unconventional young woman who has the courage to reinvent herself and to create her own destiny in a new country. A marvel of storytelling, Daughter of Fortune confirms once again Isabel Allende’s extraordinary gift for fiction and her place as one of the world’s leading writers. — Publisher
August 24, 2016
The Klamath Knot by David Rains Wallace, 20th Anniversary ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
“The Klamath Knot represents the rare blend of hard science of the world we can observe and measure with that of the world we can only imagine or dream.[…He] introduces us to rock, primal ooze, water, and ultimately life. […] A truly magical and diverse region along the California and Oregon border that stretches from the Rogue River south to the Eel River. A place that is home to old growth forests, runs of salmon and steelhead, and high deserts. [He] takes us into some of the more remote places of the Klamath and masterfully focuses on the biological importance of each ecosystem.”—Michael Kaufmann— Goodreads.com [original pub. 1983; epilogue added]
Winner of the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing, the Commonwealth Club Silver Medal for Literature 1984, and named one of the twentieth century’s best nonfiction books by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Klamath Knot, originally published by Sierra Club Books in 1983, is a personal vision of wilderness in the Klamath Mountains of northwest California and southwest Oregon, seen through the lens of “evolutionary mythology.” David Rains Wallace uses his explorations of the diverse ecosystems in this region to ponder the role of evolution and myth in our culture. The author’s new epilogue makes a case for the creation of a new park to safeguard this exceptionally rich storehouse of relict species and evolutionary stories, which has largely been bypassed by conservationists since John Muir. — Publisher
September 28, 2016
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, New York: Viking Press, 1977.
“[Her] real subject involves her Pueblo heritage, but it is not limited to that. What really seems to interest & concern her is the survival of that heritage in the twentieth-century American world that surrounds and contains that heritage in usually destructive & often mindless […]ways. [It], is in no sense a nostalgic celebration of the “old ways,” though some of its characters are governed by such feelings. […I]t questions not only the modern world but the old ways themselves in such a manner that her Pueblo heritage becomes a highly dramatic aspect of the book as a whole […]. ”— C. W. Truesdale, North Dakota Quarterly
Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair. — Publisher
October 26, 2016
Enduring Conviction by Lorraine K. Bannai, Seattle: University of Washington Press, .
“…[T]his is the first biography of a man whose landmark case challenging the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans is taught in every law school. [He…] was an ordinary man who took an extraordinary stand […]. Bannai […] was part of the original legal team that pursued the seemingly quixotic goal of overturning Fred’s wartime conviction four decades later. […S]he skillfully weaves the story of the landmark court case with Fred’s personal journey. Her […] view is valuable not only in analyzing the complex legal issues, but also in providing insight into the Japanese-American community and the personal and political forces that motivated […him] throughout his life.”—Elaine Elinson, Los Angeles Review of Books
Fred Korematsu’s decision to resist F.D.R.’s Executive Order 9066, which provided authority for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, was initially the case of a young man following his heart: he wanted to remain in California with his white fiancée. However, he quickly came to realize that it was more than just a personal choice; it was a matter of basic human rights. After refusing to leave for incarceration when ordered, Korematsu was eventually arrested and convicted of a federal crime before being sent to the internment camp at Topaz, Utah. He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, which, in one of the most infamous cases in American legal history, upheld the wartime orders. Forty years later, in the early 1980s, a team of young attorneys resurrected Korematsu’s case. This time, Korematsu was victorious, and his conviction was overturned, helping to pave the way for Japanese American redress. Lorraine Bannai, who was a young attorney on that legal team, combines insider knowledge of the case with extensive archival research, personal letters, and unprecedented access to Korematsu his family, and close friends. She uncovers the inspiring story of a humble, soft-spoken man who fought tirelessly against human rights abuses long after he was exonerated. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom. — Publisher
November 30, 2016
Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayo’s Old Plaza by Don J. Usner, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995.
“Don Usner spent the early 1990s photographing the elders of his community and gatherings stories. […]Sabino’s map was a piece of folk art[…], a ‘picture that matched [Sabino’s] mental image of the old plaza where he grew up in the early decades of the twentieth century.’ When the viejitos were presented with a copy of the map, the treasure houses of memory, story, and imagination were opened to [him …] This is a rare work of fluid, storytelling scholarship. [He] has tracked the history of the plaza and its people through historical documents […] also old photographs, letters, & notes. And he listened — carefully, and patiently.”— Paula Panich, The Literary Gardener.com
Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayo’s Old Plaza recounts and celebrates the history of the Plaza del Cerro, the only fully intact colonial plaza remaining in New Mexico. With its lively oral histories and rare historical photographs, Sabino’s Map is the first in-depth look at perhaps the best known Hispanic village in the American Southwest.Sabino’s Map provides a thorough cultural history of Chimayo, from pre-historic settlements to the current struggles of an isolated community in a modern and changing world. Through historical photographs, collections of documents preserved by author’s family, and from the words and memories of the people who live there, Usner evokes a poignant sense of the colorful people who remember and continue to make the history of the Plaza del Cerro. — Publisher
December 21, 2016
Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2015.
“[The book] plunges into the contemporary American West with quiet confidence and a shimmer of magic. […He] paints a vibrant picture of the West that layers itself subtly but assertively over the prevailing mythos of the lonely white cowboy.[…]His stories may be contemporary, but they have a mythic, romantic, timeless quality, setting people against backdrops that melt seamlessly into wilderness, both physical and spiritual.[…] Many of the stories here pivot on encount
ers with animals and spirits in ways that reveal tender, intricate textures, suspended in shifting terrain between the solid and the surreal.” — Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
A new collection of stories set in the West from “one of the most gifted and versatile of contemporary writers” (NPR) Percival Everett’s long-awaited new collection of stories, his first since 2004’s Damned If I Do, finds him traversing the West with characteristic restlessness. A deaf Native American girl wanders off into the desert and is found untouched in a den of rattlesnakes. A young boy copes with the death of his sister by angling for an unnaturally large trout in the creek where she drowned. An old woman rides her horse into a mountain snowstorm and sees a long-dead beloved dog. For the plainspoken men and women of these stories(fathers and daughters, sheriffs and veterinarians)small events trigger sudden shifts in which the ordinary becomes unfamiliar. A harmless comment about how to ride a horse changes the course of a relationship, a snakebite gives rise to hallucinations, and the hunt for a missing man reveals his uncanny resemblance to an actor.Half an Inch of Water tears through the fabric of the everyday to examine what lies beneath the surface of these lives. In the hands of master storyteller Everett, the act of questioning leads to vistas more strange and unsettling than could ever have been expected. — Publisher