- 4:00PM

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.

 


 December 21, 2016

Cover of Half an inch of Water151207_r27398-320

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


January 25, 2017

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West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein, New York: Random House, [2016]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 7:00 p.m. “Stein gives a sort of aerial view of five Los Angeles clans that amassed fortunes in the 20th century:[…] subjects [that] largely shaped the public imagination of the city [….T]his time instead of the decaying effect of hereditary wealth there is the explosive fallout of the quick trips up the class ladder that are a California specialty.[…]It’s possible that oral history as Stein practices it — with historians and other not personally involved experts in the mix, […] — is as close as we’re going to come to the real story of anything.”—Maria Russo, New York Times

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * An epic, mesmerizing oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles from the author of the contemporary classic Edie Jean Stein transformed the art of oral history in her groundbreaking book Edie: American Girl, an indelible portrait of Andy Warhol “superstar” Edie Sedgwick, which was edited with George Plimpton. Now, in West of Eden, she turns to Los Angeles, the city of her childhood. Stein vividly captures a mythic cast of characters: their ambitions and triumphs as well as their desolation and grief. These stories illuminate the bold aspirations of five larger-than-life individuals and their families. West of Eden is a work of history both grand in scale and intimate in detail. At the center of each family is a dreamer who finds fortune and strife in Southern California: Edward Doheny, the Wisconsin-born oil tycoon whose corruption destroyed the reputation of a U.S. president and led to his own son’s violent death; Jack Warner, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who together with his brothers founded one of the world’s most iconic film studios; Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of an aspiring actress who could never escape her mother’s schemes; Jennifer Jones, an actress from Oklahoma who won the Academy Award at twenty-five but struggled with despair amid her fame and glamour. Finally, Stein chronicles the ascent of her own father, Jules Stein, an eye doctor born in Indiana who transformed Hollywood with the creation of an unrivaled agency and studio. In each chapter, Stein paints a portrait of an outsider who pins his or her hopes on the nascent power and promise of Los Angeles. Each individual’s unyielding intensity pushes loved ones, especially children, toward a perilous threshold. West of Eden depicts the city that has projected its own image of America onto the world, in all its idealism and paradox. As she did in Edie, Jean Stein weaves together the personal recollections of an array of individuals to create an astonishing tapestry of a place like no other. Praise for West of Eden “Compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles–that uniquely ‘American Place’ Stein refers to in her subtitle–but also the real drama of this town . . . It’s like being at an insider’s cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. . . . Mesmerizing.”–Los Angeles Times “Enthralling . . . brings some of [L.A.’s] biggest personalities to life . . . As she did for Edie Sedgwick in Edie: American Girl, [Stein] harnesses a gossipy chorus of voices.”–Vogue “Even if you’re a connoisseur of Hollywood tales, you’ve probably never heard these. . . . As ever, gaudy, debauched, merciless Hollywood has the power to enthrall its audience.”–The Wall Street Journal “The tales of jaw-dropping excess, cruelty, and betrayal are the stuff of movies, and the pleasures are immense.”–Vanity Fair “This riveting oral history chronicles the development of Los Angeles, from oil boomtown to Tinseltown.”–Entertainment Weekly (“Must List”) — Publisher


February 22, 2017

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East of Eden by John Steinbeck; New York: The Viking Press, 1952.  Part 1, Read the First Half Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 7:00 p.m. “’I’ve been practising for a book for 35 years,’ said Steinbeck of his most ambitious and autobiographical novel. East of Eden was first published in the summer of 1952 and by November had become the nation’s number-one bestseller.  Set in the farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, the novel follows the relationships of two families, the Trasks and Hamiltons, and draws heavily on the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, exploring the relationships between parents and children, between brothers and between people, history and place. Steinbeck also wrote of the book: ‘It has to have a universal quality, or there is no point in writing it.’– The Guardian

In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families-the Trasks and the Hamiltons-whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness. First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis. — Publisher


March 29, 2017

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East of Eden by John Steinbeck; New York: The Viking Press, 1952. Part 2, Read the Second Half. Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 7:00 p.m. East of Eden also probes the nature of marriage and sexual love, through the person of one of Steinbeck’s most memorable characters, Cathy Ames, a wild, independent but amoral woman, described as ‘a monster’. At a time when American women were expected to find fulfillment in being home-makers, a woman without love for family bonds is dangerous and demonic. This strange, sweeping novel remains Steinbeck’s most considered meditation on national and personal identity, ‘the story of my country and the story of me’. “— The Guardian

In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families-the Trasks and the Hamiltons-whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness. First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis. — Publisher


April 26, 2017

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LOCAS: the Maggie and Hopey Stories by Jaime Hernandez, Seattle, WA:

Fantagraphics, 2004. Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 7:00 p.m. “Maggie and Hopey stories are mostly about punk rock, women’s wrestling, bisexuality and southern Californian Latino culture […]with Hernandez focusing increasingly on the complex relationships […] as they try to make their way in the world in Hoppers, a barrio outside Los Angeles apparently based on the Hernandez brothers’ own home town of Oxnard, California[…T]here is a detailed focus on everyday life as lived by characters facing the usual human problems, setbacks and tragedies  […The book] ultimately serves as a useful social history as much as it does a comic.” –Ian Sansom, — The Guardian

One of the most imaginative artists in American popular culture, Jaime Hernandez has sold over 1.5 million comic books since 1982. Locas is the story of Maggie, a bisexual Mexican-American woman coming of age during the 1980s Southern California rock scene, when the anarchic world of punk and new wave emerged. Hernandez’s naturalistic storytelling and mastery of body language and facial expression, as well as his brilliant depiction of barrio life with its class and racial tensions, make Locas one of the great American novels of the last 25 years, graphic or otherwise. — Publisher


May 31, 2017

learning-las-vegas

Learning Las Vegas by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers; Santa Fe : Museum of New Mexico Press in association with Foundation for Landscape Studies, New York City, ©2013. Wednesday, May 31, 2017, 7:00 p.m.  [The book] showcas[es] the cultural legacy, history, and people of this New Mexican community. Beautifully illustrated with full color photography, this is a case study in how the town’s history can be viewed as two combined and yet distinctive populations: Hispanic and Anglo. […T]his community located in the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains is home to some 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. A unique and seminal work[…]”  — Midwest Book Review

Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the subject and muse of this provocative case study of “place”, exploring the history and geography but most centrally walking the town and landscape and meeting the people whose lives tell of the rich complexity of the location. To start with topography, Las Vegas translates as “The Meadows”. The name refers to the series of spacious grasslands fanning out from the slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Range where the mountains form the western terminus of the Great Plains. This fine location allowed Las Vegas, situated as it was on the Santa Fe Trail and with the arrival of the railroad, to become New Mexico’s handsomest, most prosperous town. Throughout the opulent years from 1821 through the first decades of the twentieth century, merchants and businessmen amassed considerable wealth in grain and lumber from Mora and San Miguel counties, along with wool, hides, and metals from the Pecos and Mesilla valleys. The region’s decline was spelled out by the rerouting of the railway along with changes in manufacturing. Today’s Las Vegas is a proud but fading shadow of its former self, captured in human terms, in families and memories, and still in the dreams of its people. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, an accomplished cultural historian and photographer, includes portraits of some sixty residents interviewed extensively for the project and dozens of photographs detailing the town’s architecture, public spaces, and natural features. To comprehend the layout of Las Vegas and study its architecture, Rogers walked its streets, exploring the outlying villages and ranches with traces of the Santa Fe Trail at Fort Union and elsewhere. To visualize its past, she delved deeply in archives and histories. To feel the pulse of the present, Rogers interviewed Las Vegans representing different cultural backgrounds, ages, and walks of life and immersed herself in local events and social gatherings. The result is an authentic portrait of a unique cultural place.–Publisher


June 28, 2017

now-and-at-the-hour-_-front-coverNow and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques; translated by Julia Sanches, New York: And Other Stories, 2015.  Wednesday, June 28, 2017, 7:00 p.m.

“This year I was internally rearranged by “Now and at the Hour of Our Death,” a piece of lyric reportage by a Portuguese journalist, Susana Moreira Marques. It’s an account of hospice care in a rural region of Portugal, but it’s also a long poem built of morphine and gauze and ragged breathing and roadside crosses. Its glimpses splintered into me and have not left.” — Leslie Jamison, New York Times

A nurse sleeps at the bedside of his dying patients; a wife deceives her husband by never telling him he has cancer; a bedridden man has to be hidden from his demented and amorous eighty-year-old wife. In her poignant and genre-busting debut, Susana Moreira Marques confronts us with our own mortality and inspires us to think about what is important. Accompanying a palliative care team, Moreira Marques travels to Trás-os-Montes, a forgotten corner of northern Portugal, a rural area abandoned by the young. Crossing great distances where eagles circle over the roads, she visits villages where rural ways of life are disappearing. She listens to families facing death and gives us their stories in their words as well as through her own meditations. Brilliantly blending the immediacy of oral history with the sensibility of philosophical reportage, Moreira Marques’s book speaks about death in a fresh way.–Publisher

 

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