Book Club: Reading the Western Landscape
In 2014, the Book Group explored the portrayal of western North American landscape in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The group meets the 1st Wednesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at the Arboretum Library. 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 welcome. Current book selections are as follows:
Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
The Living by Annie Dillard, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, ©1992.
“An unusual epic, at once huge and intimate, about the settling of the West begins in 1855, when Ada Fishburn & her infant son, Glee, step ashore […] where the dark trees run straight down to Puget Sound, & it ends in the lean years of the 1890s, with Jim Hill’s Great Northern having tied the state of Washington to the coming century and Glee a middle-aged man tending bar in Seattle. […W]hat gives the book its power […] the beauty and clarity of the writing and the author’s sure sense of the pace, talk, and enthusiasms of other times, of the sadness of withered enterprise, of the violence and beauty of life.” —American Heritage
Wednesday, August 6, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place by Robert Michael Pyle, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007.
“[…] Pyle has synthesized three decades of life in a small community in southwest Washington into this exquisite portrait of place. Each chapter […] represents a month of the year in Gray‟s River Valley; each brims with vivid moments and vignettes. […]This down-to-earth book hums with the details of country living, the intersection of the wild with the domestic. […It] inspires us to look for possibilities of grace close to home. ” —Colleen Mondor, Bookslut
September 3, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
The Bohemians: Mark Twain & the San Francisco Writers who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff, New York: The Penguin Press, 2014.
“In 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad joined the country together and tore San Francisco apart. That’s the conclusion [of this] fine book[. …Tarnoff‟s] energetic attention [is] on a quartet of versatile writers, […]: Charles Warren Stoddard, […] Bret Harte, […]; Ina Coolbrith, […]; and Mark Twain, who decades later would mysteriously allude to a suicide attempt during his San Francisco years. […Tarnoff‟s] ultimate thesis is a strong one […] together these writers „helped pry American literature away from its provincial origins in New England and push it into a broader current.‟” —David Kipen, Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, October 1, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Joe’s Word: An Echo Park Novel by Elizabeth Stromme, San Francisco: City Lights Books, ©2003.
“The Joe […] is a writer for hire […]. He is an intricate part of his Echo Park neighborhood, connecting its odder characters & catering to their deepest needs. […] His nights there are like everyone else’s, regularly transformed into “white nights” by police helicopters & requiring ear plugs. Joe is torn between Clio, the artist with the Jean Seberg haircut, and Corazon, the Filipina he lured to the U.S. by the sheer poetry of the letters he wrote for a client. Stromme knows how to find the beauty in the L.A. landscape: „In fact if you closed your eyes and let yourself drift, you might’ve thought you were in the tropics, the air was so perfumed. But I didn’t. No one would. You had to keep your eyes open in Echo Park.‟ —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, November 5, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, New York : Harper & Row, ©1966.
“The haunting descriptions of the always acutely present landscape contained in the novel spring from [his] back ground. „I am [says Momaday] inclined closely to associate events with the physical dimensions in which they take place. . . my existence is indivisible with the land.‟ His novel is a complex, symbolic expression of how language and culture tend through their own territorial imperatives to encompass one, […] . If one voluntarily or forcedly intermixes with another culture and its language, he may find that in the interim he has lost both.‟ —Martha Scott Trimble, Western Writers Series
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Fear Falls Away and Other Essays from Hard & Rocky Places by Janice Emily Bowers, Tucson : University of Arizona Press, ©1997.
“[…] naturalist Bowers […] simply loves the wilderness of southern Arizona […]. The collection also chronicles a year in the life of the author during which she hiked her favorite mountains. […] By mixing memoir and botany, [she] has transcended dry nature writing. […] Bowers adroitly translates her science into a moving prose that will assist desert rat and city dweller alike in coming to a greater understanding of how it’s possible to cherish this inhospitable land.” —Publisher’s Weekly