Wednesday, August 30; 7:00PM - 8:00PM

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  Please RSVP to Susan if you plan to attend.


June 28, 2017



Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques; translated by Julia Sanches, New York: And Other Stories, 2015.

“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

July 26, 2017

My Bad: a Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos, Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, [2016].

“[…I]t’s a mystery and a good one. Still, it is the people, the dialogue, the humor and the sense of place that make […it] so compelling. […He] brings to life the old Northside, its culture, its people, its music and color. […] Ramos writes about North Denver better than anybody. …[It] is a fine mystery with an unexpected ending, but it is also a view by an insider into the life of one of Denver’s unique neighborhoods that may one day disappear.” —Sandra Dallas, Denver Post

In this gritty novel set in Denver, Colorado, mystery novelist Manuel Ramos unites two of his characters–attorney Luis Móntez and felon Gus Corral–as they investigate the unsolved murder of a local bar owner that involves an illegal smuggling operation and an ex-con demanding his share of the profits.



August 30, 2017

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L Bird, Norman, OK : University of Oklahoma Press, ©1960. 

“[She] is one of a kind, incredibly bold — a burly mountain man would have had trouble keeping up with some of her innumerable cross-country treks in a single Colorado autumnal visit. Her lyrical penned descriptions of the Colorado Front Range will never be equaled […]. Isabella was an astute observer who revels in her depictions and opinions. Anyone […] should […] read this frequently reprinted classic and […] revel in its lush descriptions of the austere Great Plains, the dingy, dusty, unruly towns and the magnificent mountain scenery and extremely colorful pioneer characters.” —Panayoti Kelaidis, [original pub. 1878]

In 1872, Isabella Bird, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes ‘in search of health’ and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode her horse through the American Wild West, a terrain only newly opened to pioneer settlement. The letters that make up this volume were first published in 1879. They tell of magnificent, unspoiled landscapes and abundant wildlife, of encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears, and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers. A classic account of a truly astounding journey.

September 27, 2017

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Estelle Butler, New York: Warner Books, ©1993.

“[The book] is a modern classic of the dystopian future subgenre of science fiction. In a future Southern California plagued by drought, massive economic inequality, and violence, Lauren Olamina, a young African American woman, who can literally feel your pain, sets out to found a new religion and head north to a better life. This is book is ostensibly a journal she keeps of her journey. […]There is action, there is philosophy, and there are political lessons. Olimina battles sexism, racism, ageism, and the dark impulses of late capitalism, all while falling in love and contemplating the meaning of life. […] Butler has the chops to develop her characters, and advance the plot, without sacrificing the larger political and cultural issues she wishes to engaged in.”—

In California in the year 2025, a small community is overrun by desperate scavengers, as an eighteen-year-old African American woman sets off on foot on a perilous journey northward.

October 25, 2017

Distant Neighbors: the Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder edited by Chad Wriglesworth Berkeley: Counterpoint, ©2014.

“The heart of the book is the close exchange of two concerned and wise observers working to understand their life and the world[…H]ere their guards are down, and they talk directly admitting their confusions and struggles to understand their culture and even each other. […]Both men go on to write of their daily work and doings, yet their continual awakening to and recording of the world and their minds and hearts moves these letters. It’s a shared journey that is carefully documented by editor Chad Wriglesworth in notes and index. —Larry Smith, New York Journal of Books

In 1969 Gary Snyder returned from a long residence in Japan to the Sierra foothills, where he intended to build a house and settle with his wife and sons. He had just published his first book of essays,Earth House Hold. A few years before, Wendell Berry left New York City for farmland in Port Royal, Kentucky, where he built a small studio and lived with his wife. Berry had just publishedLong-Legged House. These two founding members of the counterculture had yet to meet, but they knew each other’s work and soon began a correspondence. Neither man could have imagined the impact their work would have on American political and literary culture, nor the impact they would have on one another. They exchanged more than 240 letters from 1973 to 2013, bringing out the best in each other as they grappled with faith and reason, discussed home and family, worried over the disintegration of community and commonwealth, and shared the details of the lives they’d chosen with their wives and children. None can be unaffected by the complexity of their relationship, the subtlety of their arguments, and the grace of their friendship. This is a book for the ages.

November 29, 2017

Tombs of the Vanishing Indian by Marie Humber Clements, Vancouver, B.C.: Talonbooks, ©2012.

“[The play] was inspired by Marie’s visit to the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, an entity of the Autry National Center. That visit, coupled with stories of those who were sent to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the ways Indians are made to vanish in society gave rise to this powerfully compelling play. Tombs weaves together the stories of three sisters who, along with their mother, were made to relocate to LA from Oklahoma only to find themselves lost down three very different tunnels. We follow each of the women as they struggle with the choices they have to make and the choices that have been forced upon them.”—Native Voices at the Autry

Three young Native American sisters and their mother board a bus bound for Los Angeles, leaving home as part of a 1950s government mandate to relocate reserve Indians to urban centres. This assimilationist policy was one focus of M#65533;tis playwright Marie Clements’s research when she was commissioned to create a new play for the tenth anniversary of the Native Voices series at the Autry National Center, Los Angeles. Clements dramatizes the emotional, psychological, and social repercussions of this, and subsequent, bureaucratic incursions into the girls’ lives. Their arrival in California takes a tragic turn when their mother is suddenly killed, and the girls are arbitrarily placed in different foster homes, never to see each other again. We follow Janey, Miranda, and Jessie as they lead very disparate adult lives: Janey, a troubled vagrant; Miranda, a burgeoning actress fighting typecasting in Hollywood; Jessie, an idealist physician who’s married to a medical colleague. As it was bureaucratic policy that had dismantled their secure family unit and sent each girl into the unknown, so too did a government paper ultimately bring them together, if only symbolically. Clements casts the sisters’ narrative against the backdrop of another historical injustice: the forced sterilization of thousands of Native women in the 1970s, a practice that was only abolished in 1981. Clements’s play is a compelling, and poetic, investigation of the coldly bureaucratic machinations that have, throughout history, attempted to facilitate the disappearance of Native people. Though Tombs of the Vanishing Indian focuses on specific policies and locations, it speaks eloquently to broader themes of Aboriginal displacement. There are, indeed, echoes of Canadian policy aimed at the dissolution of First Nations families and culture: the potlatch ban, residential schools, and the ban on Native language, whose profoundly damaging ramifications are our shared legacy. Cast of 4 women and 3 men.

December 20, 2017

All Over Coffee by Paul Madonna, San Francisco, Calif : City Lights Book, 2007.

“[…The] collection [..] evocatively demonstrates the evolution of his eponymous San Francisco Chronicle strip. The juxtaposition of floating scraps of overheard, disconnected conversations and masterful pen and ink drawings of San Francisco, the city he lovingly documents, reminds us of the serendipity of city life, its physicality and atmosphere, its unanticipated discoveries, its random intersections, its coincidences and ironies. Madonna opens a window into the specificity of place, time and circumstance, providing an articulate perspective and critique of where and how we live.” —Cathy Jensen Simon, SMWM Architects.”

In February 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle began printing an enigmatic feature called “All Over Coffee.” Almost immediately, letters of love and hate, confusion and praise poured in. Accustomed to the familiar formats of comic strips and cartoons, some readers struggled to understand a creation that seemed to live both within and beyond those boundaries. All Over Coffee blends the timing of comics with the depth of poetry. Artist and writer Paul Madonna has fused art, literature, and comics by pairing timeless cityscapes with philosophical musings and poignant stories in masterfully rendered ink-wash drawings that surpass the art of Ben Katchor in elegance and architectural detail. His work has been compared to “a meeting of the tone of Edward Gorey, the uniqueness of Chris Ware, and the artfulness of Raymond Pettibon.” Quirky, whimsical, and often profound, All Over Coffee’s stunning imagery and thoughtful writing combine to create a conceptual world, both dreamlike and familiar. This selection will delight anyone who has ever lived in or visited San Francisco–or dreamed of doing so–with its original, off-the-beaten-path view of the city and its inhabitants. Paul Madonna moved to San Francisco and began to self-publish comics after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University’s fine arts program and an internship at MAD magazine. In 2002 he launched his incredibly popular website,, posting a new cartoon each week. In 2004 the San Francisco Chronicle and picked up his strip “All Over Coffee,” which continues to appear weekly.


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© 2015 Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens

Phone: 626.821.3222

301 N. Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA, 91007

Site Design by Kirk Projects