Library Spotlight - “The Art of Botanical Painting”

Botanical illustration is a highly specialized and very beautiful art form.  Both artistic and scientific, these illustrations capture both the beauty and biology of a wide variety of specimens.  This book covers a variety of materials and artistic principles for creating highly detailed and accurate images that also have striking compositions.  This book is filled with many wonderful examples of botanical art and will be inspirational and useful to anyone considering exploring this fascinating craft.
This book is part of the Library's collection on botanical illustration which was made possible in large part due to the generosity of Olga Eysymontt-Krogh and Eric Krogh.  Olga is a noted botanical artist and instructor and a founding member of the Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California.
To find this book at the Arboretum Library click here.

Library Spotlight - “Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate”

Want to get double duty out of your garden?  Look no further than this book, Edible Flowers by Cathy Wilkinson Barash, to find out about plants that both look and taste good.  Filled with information and recipes about a variety of plants with edible flowers, this book will expand your palate and add a special touch to your food.  Imagine how impressed your guests will be when you serve them Pansy Ravioli or Daylily Blueberry Pancakes!
To find this book in the Arboretum Library look here.

Reading the Western Landscape - Current Books

The Reading the Western Landscape Book Group explores the portrayal of western North American landscape in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The group generally meets the 1st Wednesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at the Arboretum Library.  See the dates below.  There will be some Saturdays as well. 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.
Please RSVP to the librarian, Susan Eubank via phone at 626-821-3213 or via email if you plan on attending the book group discussion.
Books that the group has previously discussed can be found here.

Current Book

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on the Big Dry, a Memoir by Joe Wilkins, Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012. 
“Wilkins nails the sense of this place dead-on with poet’s eyes […] and musician’s ears […] The snap shirts, feed store ball caps, Rainier beer cans, antelope breakfast steaks, Chinook winds and the opaque plastic sheets covering windows in the winter […]The [book] is another poignant lesson in reconciling ourselves with our natural environment. ‘We need to remember how it really was and is out West, and we need to tell those true new stories…’” Chris Bowman, Capital Public Radio

Future books
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.
“Like most of the characters in [Jack Kerouac’s] “On the Road,” “Terry” was based on a real person. Bea Franco was her name, and she was the daughter of farm-working Mexican immigrants. In his poignant new novel […] the San Joaquin Valley-raised poet […] reconstructs Franco's life and her passionate, life-changing encounter with the famous writer in autumn 1947. […R]eading Hernandez feels like being transported into a time machine and being shown other textures in the California landscape that Kerouac, an outsider, could not possibly have seen.” — Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin, New York, NY : Harper, 2012.
“Coplin’s mesmerizing debut stands out with its depictions of uniquely Western personalities and a stark, gorgeously realized landscape that will settle deeply into readers’ bones. In the early twentieth century, Talmadge lives alone amid his huge spread of fruit trees in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley. […] The prose abounds with poetic imagery, and the quotation-mark-free dialogue […] emphasizes the melding of these solitary characters with the vast, wild place they choose to call home.”— Sarah Johnson, Booklist

Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:00 p.m 

My Ántonia by Willa Sibert Cather, Boston: H. Mifflin, 1918.
“Cather is our quietest Modernist. That is to say, she was innovative in her approach to her work, but novels such as My Ántonia were written in such a deceptively plain prose style that their robust, formal originality, their delicious complexities can easily be missed. The story is told in the male-gendered voice of Jim Burden […]. Through Burden, Cather uses landscape not merely as backdrop, but as a kind of character, dynamically interactive with Ántonia's family as well as everyone else in Black Hawk.”— Bradford Morrow, You Must Read This, NPR
Wednesday June 4, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in North New Mexico by Stanley G. Crawford Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. 
Stanley Crawford has [. . .] turned the history of an acequia into a startling and lovely celebration of life. […His] artistry draws the reader [. . .] into the lives of those simple and strong people [. . . The] narrative technique effectively leads the reader through the past's mundane tasks of yearly digging and scraping ditches [and] illustrates the joy of 'living life deliberately' without modern conveniences–it reveals […] the strength and hardihood found only in those who live close to the land and depend on the environment for survival. It is a testament to the human spirit . . . — Western American Literature
For more information about the Reading the Western Landscape Book Group, please contact the Arboretum Librarian, Susan Eubank, at 626-821-3213 or via email.

Reading the Western Landscape - Previous Book Selections

Interested in checking out books previously read by the Reading the Western Landscape Book Group (current and future books are here)?  Browse the list below and consider the questions developed for each book.
For each book here are some questions to ponder:

What are some parts of this book that resonated for you in terms of landscape?

Was there any part of the book that didn't seem authentic to you?

Did any of the adventures seem to feel especially western or not western?

What is your favorite line, passage or image from the story?

What are some of things you consider ambiguities in the book?  How did you resolve these ambiguities?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Close range: Wyoming stories by Annie Proulx, New York, NY: Scribner, 1999.
“Like a flash flood rushing along a normally meandering stream, […] Proulx’s most characteristic short stories move with a deceptive sort of sinister casualness, before the point of impact, and of disaster—but “disaster” […] is likely to be tersely and ironically noted, as the fall of a sparrow might be noted, one more event in the hard implacable heart of Nature.[…C]haracters may be foolish, hardly more than puppets or ants seen from the ironist’s distance, but the prose in which they are rendered is likely to be sinewy, supple, tensely impacted, and “poetic” in the best sense of the word.”—Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

What are the positive aspect in these stories?
Why do you think the author used such unusual names? 
“The Half-Skinned Steer” — This appears to be a retelling of a legend-like story, although it is set in the “present”. Why do you think the author combined these two genres?
“The Mud Below” — This is a long story about a profession most people aren’t familiar with.  What about the story helped you understand the profession better?
“Job History” — What drives people to make such poor decisions?
“The Blood Bay” — What particulars made this story funny?
“People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water” –Proulx’s language surrounding the landscape and environment is often exquisite even though the stories are brutal.  How do you reconcile this juxtaposition?
“The Bunchgrass Edge of the World” –The stories seem a lot like Chekhov’s short stories, showing careful observation of the human condition.  Often that observation is negative or joyless.  What joy can you take from this story?
“Pair of Spurs” — There is significant portrayal of men being violent toward women in these stories.  How did you process that portrayal?
“A Lonely Coast” – Did Josanna kill anybody?
“The Governors of Wyoming” — In this Proulx is making a point that the rural, ranching lifestyle is extraordinarily different from an urban environment and is changing rapidly.  What twists did she give to that which were unexpected?
“55 Miles to the Gas Pump” — Why?
“Brokeback Mountain” — Do you have memories that turn into dreams? How is this story different from the others in the book?

Wednesday December 4, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Cold Starry Night: An Alaska Memoir, 2nd ed. , by Clair Fejes; Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2007.  

“In 1946, young Claire Fejes was a painter and sculptor in New York City. […She] went—to Fairbanks, last stop on the Alaska Railroad, in the heart of the immense northern territory, where Joe Fejes intended to mine for gold. In her […]memoir, Fejes tells of a remote outpost where a hardy breed of Alaskans overcomes loneliness and of her own soul-aching artistic and cultural isolation. She describes characters such as Eva McGown, a one-woman social-service agency who wears powerful violet perfume and speaks with a sweet Irish brogue; and Fabian Carey, a trapper who loves the wilderness as fervently as he does opera, literature, and art. Like her vivid paintings, the author portrays the men and women for whom survival and self-sufficiency is foremost in post-war Alaska”.— from Publisher’s website.
• Could this have been anyone’s “move” to Alaska story?
• Does the Alaska landscape shape the author's art? How? How not? 
• How did the creation of the art fit in with Claire meeting the Alaska landscape with it’s change and struggle, logistical difficulties and the inaccessibility to further advanced art instruction?
• What was your favorite thing you learned about Alaska from this book?
• Particularly in the beginning the language was very straight forward and seemingly simple? Was this deliberate? Did that change through the book?
• What did you think about her repeated compulsions to do art?  Did this resonate with anything in your own life?
• Did the illustrations resonate with the story for you?  How so?
• Was the trajectory the book took surprising to you?  What did you think about the last pages?
• Were there any surprises for you about how Fairbanks grew as a town?
• What are the strengths of the book? What not so much?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 7:00 p.m 

Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir by D. J. Waldie;  New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. 
“[…] unlike any ever written on the architectural and civic makeup of Southern California. In 316 brief, numbered entries, […he] relates the history of Lakewood's first major post-war suburban housing development, and of his own family's history there[…].  He is also defending suburban living and its architecture against the familiar charge that it is fundamentally about escapism and materialism. […] he writes. “But they were wrong.” The houses in Lakewood […] instead gave their owners just “enough space to reinvent themselves.”  In other ways the book and [his] personal story cut against the grain of typical suburban history. […He] is deeply reflective and unusually settled; there is a rooted constancy to his life and to his writing.”— from Christopher Hawthorne,

Why does the author juxtapose the almost non-personal tales of his life with the very detailed history of Lakewood and it’s land?
What was your favorite Lakewood fact?
Did this story resonant with any of your childhood memories?
How did the format of the book effect your reading of it?  
What do the chapter numbers mean?
How did his Catholicism and the other religious references effect your reading of the book? Were you able to understand the religious references? Why? Why not?
How did the pictures effect your reading of the text?
What are the strengths of the book? 
How did the author’s exploration of the broader history of Los Angeles and Levittown fit with his exploration of the history of Lakewood?
Why didn’t he ever call it Lakewood? Did he call it Lakewood?
Was he accurate in his thoughts on the landscape and trees?
Why is it called Holy Land?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

El Iluminado: A Graphic Novel by Ilan Stavans & Steve Sheinkin;  New York: Basic Books, ©2012.
“[…] Stavans is thrust into a fictional mystery about a group of real people whose history is largely unknown to most 
Americans: the “crypto-Jews” of New Mexico. Steve Sheinkin, with an appealing palette of earth-toned colors, creates the illustrated world in which this story unfolds. “What interests me in all this is the way people create stories to survive, to affirm who they are, to make a stand,” “That's what authenticity is all about: the personal belief that each of us is unique, that deep inside there's a light that guides our path.”  That light burns also in certain New Mexico homes, where people have lighted candles on Friday evenings for generations — without knowing exactly why they're doing so.” — from Hector Tobar, 

How is the story enhanced or changed by the graphic novel form?
What’s did you think about the academic rivalry?
Why is it so dramatic or forbidden to learn the history? Why didn’t Irina give Ilan the evidence?
Why is the graduate assistant carrying a gun?
Did you perceive truth in the story? Why/Why not?
Do the illustrations add to your understanding of the landscape?
Were you able to understand the religious references? Why? Why not?
What was your reaction to  the broader philosophizing such as the questions about what is a home?
Why did the author use this medium to tell the story?
What reaction did you have to all of the hidden lives?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Magnificence by Lydia Millet;  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2013. 
“[…She] is a deft stylist, and her observations take place so close to the personal as to unearth surprising truths in even the most over-scrutinized things, inviting quotation in the form of aphorism. On the love between husbands and wives, she writes: “It was the kind of love that gazed up at you from the bare white flood of your headlights — a wide-eyed love with the meekness of grass-eaters.” Without the grass-eaters of course, this startling explanation could not take place, and part of [her] project is to expose what other creatures can help us understand about ourselves. Taxidermy […] is a ready-made synecdoche for her exploration of extinction, preservation, and endangerment. “—from Jenny Hendrix, The Boston Globe. 

Is she really a murderer?
How did the taxidermy, the basement, and all the talk about extinction effect the other plot lines and your reading of the book?
Why was the basement sealed?
How do the characters deal with grief?
How did your and the author’s vision of Pasadena coincide?  Was it authentic for you? Did that matter?
Was there any part of the story that was confusing for you? If so, what? How did you reconcile the confusion?
What do we know about Hal?
Was Susan honorable?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande; New York : Atria Books, 2012.
“The narrative of Latin America poverty and the “broken beauty” of places like Iguala is buried deep in the psyche of Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. Our recent history has been shaped by Latino immigration. We live amid a million unknown tales of family longing, loss, ambition and dysfunction. Grande relentlessly mines this thematically rich terrain in [the book.] With two deeply flawed adults at its center […]it's a brutally honest book that avoids the sentimentality that permeates many Latino immigrant narratives.” – from Hector Tobar,

How did the writing style affect your reading of the book?
Is the narrator reliable? Why or why not?
What was the most shocking part of the story for you?
What did the father do right? The mother? The stepmother? The grandmother?
Was there any part of the story that was confusing for you? If so, what?
Tell about a cultural aspect of their life in Mexico that was new to you.
Tell about an aspect of their life in Los Angeles that was new to you.
Was the author judgmental? How?
What did the father achieve that the mother couldn't? How did he get the 4 plex?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon; New York: Harper, 2012
“Chabon is one of the most gifted painters in the history of American literature […]Such vividness doesn’t require a wide field of play, just a few square miles of the Bay Area and a bottomless empathy for its inhabitants. […He] writes so well about music […]; his talent […]is for performance, in the sense that his language dazzles and challenges and delights[…] That’s how the novel’s conclusion, a decidedly mixed one for Brokeland Records, comes to feel redemptive, even triumphant. That’s how, […]the audience in front of the page can enjoy that aftermath free from the burdens of nostalgia, discovering in those broken pieces something quite beautiful indeed.” — from James Santel, Los Angeles Review of Books.

Could you see the neighborhood? If so, explain a passage the made that happen? If not, why not?
Why phonograph records?
Did you believe Archy's trajectory?
What did you think about the “I'm sorry's?
Were there any parts of the story that you had trouble believing? Made you feel uncomfortable?
What about the glove?
Is there any reconciliation with Luther?
What did you think about the hearing about the hospital?
What did you think about how the author approached race? Julie's sexuality?
Was the confusion about all the characters deliberate? Why? Why not?

Saturday, June 8, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

The Angry Buddhist by Seth Greenland;  New York : Europa Editions, 2012. 

 “The small, dry towns that lead eastward from Los Angeles to Indio, across the lap of California, form an island chain in a sea of sand, each with its own biome and yet each enough like the other to form, in aggregate, one place.  It is in this insular region that […the] novel, operates, studying closely the evolutionary winners and losers of the area. […]There are subtleties and shadings visible only to those with adapted eyes, and it is those subtleties that Greenland crafts into a wild social farce, dependent on fine distinctions. .”-from Alison Powell, Los Angeles Review of Books.

• Were you able to have any sympathy for any of the characters?  Why? Why not?• What did you think when you were reading the physical descriptions of all the people in the book? Why?• What did the ending mean to you?• If there was one thing you would change about the book what would it be?• What part of the book would you be sure not to change?• Were you surprised when the author of the blog was revealed?  How did that revelation shape your reading?• Many of the characters in the book don’t appear “likeable.”  How did this affect your reading experience?• What were the author’s best descriptions of the landscape?• What did you take in from the “dog book” and the Buddhism?
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Conifer Country: A Natural History and Hiking guide to 35 Conifers of the Klamath Mountain Region by Michael Edward Kauffmann. Kneeland, California : Backcountry Press, 2012. 
“[…]no ordinary book about conifers.  Rather, it is a the tale of a voyager whose personal journey took him into the far reaches of the Klamath Mountain range of northwest California and southwest Oregon to present the conifers of the region for admiration, study and conservation.  […]The reader joins […]in search of breathtaking vistas described by some of the most beautiful, image-laden language this review has ever read. — from Ronald J. Elardo, Conifer Quarterly, Summer 2012.

What was your favorite conifer?  Why?
What was your favorite hike? Why?
Tell me about the author.  What did you learn about him?
If there was one thing you would change about the book what would it be?
What part of the book would you be sure not to change?
Tell me what you might do differently around conifers now.
Do you have any stories in this landscape or with these plants?
Can you relate where you are living now to any part of this landscape?  Which part?

Saturday, April 13, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins; New York : Riverhead Books, 2012.
[…]”A variety of strange, exotic things call the Nevada desert home.  […]This rich, diverse environment forms the backdrop of […] an exceptional debut short fiction collection […]. A writer of great precision and greater restraint, Watkins is a natural storyteller whose material enriches that gift rather than engulfing it. […]Proud and ever-enduring, Nevada now has a book to match its spirit. And one doesn’t have to be from the Battleborn state to recognize and appreciate literature that resonates like this. from Matt Gallagher, 
Since this book was selected for the Book Club it has:

been nominated for the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

been named an American Library Association 2013 Notable Book

is a Story Prize finalist

and is one of NPR’s Best Books of 2012

Here are the questions I composed, one for each story:

“Cowboys, Ghosts”
• Why did she say no to the producer? How do you see the character Razor Blade Baby?
“The Last Thing We Need?”
• Why did he keep writing? What's going on in the last few lines of this story?  How do the letters change the story out of a “traditional
“Rondine al Nido”
• Can you tell a little about your small town story or tell about when you wanted to get away from home the most? Why did “our girl” do what she did? What did the end mean about ” A person can change in an instant”?
“The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past”
• What new tale does this whorehouse story tell? How does it bear witness to this Nevada only business? 
“Wish You Were Here”
• Whose life has changed the most and how? Why does he ask “Where are you?”
• Why was the dog barking at the end?
“The Archivist” 
• Did the Miracle bring solace at the end?
“The Diggings”
• This is the longest story in the book. How does it fit in with the others?
“Virginia City” 
• Have you ever watched a friendship dissolve?  Do this remind you any of your early adulthood?
• What is your favorite line in this story? Is she going  to come out of her grief? Is the sister? This was a very powerful story for me?  Were there passages that were powerful for you? Explain.
How do all the stories relate to each other?  What is your favorite image or passage in all these stories?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Lulu In Hollywood: Expanded Edition by Louise Brooks;  Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2000. 
These eight essays are selective, nostalgic, poison-tipped and fearlessly smart. They’re sharp about Hollywood’s definitions of success and failure, about how actors are manipulated by their employers and pigeonholed by the press. Brooks saw stardom as a “pestiferous disease.” Late in her life she could cherish her solitude.[…] Brooks still shimmers as a rare loner who traveled down that road, her life in ruins — and then came back. from Janet Maslin, 

What does Lulu’s Hollywood look like?
Which essay resonated for you the most? Why?
Why did she walk away?
How did she make her way in the world?  Can you give an example of how these struggles continue?
What was the most astonishing thing you learned about Hollywood?
Tell me about what you think the strengths of the essays were?
What is your Hollywood story?
How did you interpret who she chose to write about? Explain.
How does she portray the relationship of New York to Hollywood?
What did the George Eastman House do for her?

Saturday, February 2, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit; Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2010. 
“[…]examines that San Francisco, a physically compact place that contains multitudes, through a series of elegantly rendered maps and cleverly researched and well-wrought essays conceived by more than a dozen writers, cartographers and artists. Passing through these newly mapped territories, we begin to see that “place,” as Solnit emphasizes, is an imprecise word, and even the idea of an atlas is beyond subjective[…]from Lynell George,

How did the maps affect your reading of this book?  How did it change your usual reading style?
Which essay resonated for you the most? Why?
How was ambiguity handled?  Give an example?
Did you have some different interpretations of any of the subjects covered in the essays?  What is your interpretation?
What was the most astonishing thing you learned about San Francisco?
Tell me about what you think the strengths in the essays were?
What is your San Francisco story?
How did you interpret the juxtapositions of subjects, sleight of hand or depth? Explain.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder; San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2011.
“Each of Cooder’s eight stories contains at least one murder, usually more. They center on ordinary people—[…]—whose lives are warped, derailed, or ended by the schemes of gangsters, grifters, extortionists, murderers, policemen and fanatics.  […] Los Angeles Stories focuses on the negative space around the pivotal changes occurring in Los Angeles at mid-century, evoking the texture of an era that spawned ‘La La Land.’ from Cristóbal McKinney,
How did the fact that some of the stories didn’t seem “finished” effect your interpretation of what was happening?
Could you envision the landscape?  What stayed in your mind?
How did you handle all the ambiguities?  Give an example?
Are there plot points you don’t understand?  What are some different interpretations?
How did his work as a musician affect his work as a writer?
Tell me about what you think the strength in the stories was?
What was your favorite part that was related to music?

Saturday, December 8, 2012, 2:00 p.m 

Klee Wyck by Emily Carr; Vancouver, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004. (Originally published 1941.)
The legendary Emily Carr was primarily a painter, but she first gained recognition as a writer. Her first book, […], was titled Klee Wyck (“Laughing One”), in honor of the name that the Native people of the west coast gave her as an intrepid young woman. The book […] won the prestigious Governor General's Award […]. [She] wrote these twenty-one word sketches after visiting and living with Native people, painting their totem poles and villages, many of them in wild and remote areas. She tells her stories with beauty, pathos and a vivid awareness of the comedy of people and situations. —

How did her writing style shape what she was saying?
Why were all the places abandoned?
Could you envision the landscape?  What stayed in your mind?
How old to you think she was throughout the memoir?
How did her work as an artist affect her work as a writer?
How did the length of the stories shape what you read?
Were the stories “haunting?”
Saturday, November 10, 2012, 2:00 p.m.

An American Provence by Thomas P. Huber ; Boulder : University Press of Colorado, 2011. 
“I have talked about luscious wines and succulent fruit and exquisite dinners. But there may be no more evocative experience of the two valleys than the smell of new-mown hay in the fields at dusk. If a person were to close their eyes, they could not tell if they were in Provence or the North Fork Valley. That sweet, earthy odor is part of the beauty of these places.”— [Excerpt]  In this poetic personal narrative, Thomas P. Huber reflects on two seemingly unrelated places-the North Fork Valley in western Colorado and the Coulon River Valley in Provence, France-and finds a shared landscape and sense of place. —

Were you able to suspend your disbelief?  How? Do you need to?
Did you concur with his analysis of the similarities?  How or How not?
What thought-provoking insights did our author have about the landscape? About people?
Do you have any thoughts about how the author could have changed anything for more depth in his analysis? Or what are the best parts of this book?
A recent study about reading Jane Austen done by Natalie Phillips of Michigan State University found that certain kinds of reading, as stated in Shankar Vedantam’s NPR article on the study “activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.”  What parts of this book did that for you?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Come in and Cover Me by Gin Phillips; New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. 
“Ren has devoted her career to discovering the history of the Mimbres culture, which flourished about 1,000 years ago in the American Southwest. […] Phillips’s writing [is] brimming with imagery. […] her greatest talent is her ability to create the world of the story. [The book] moves us into the earth. The dusty landscape serves as both setting and metaphor, a beautiful but dangerous place where a sudden loss of footing can prove fatal. […] Still, this is ultimately a novel about recovery. In that way, the fragmentation of image and memory seems realistic. For most of us, like Ren, healing from tragedy arrives in little pieces and over time”. — Brunonia Barry, Washington Post.

Why ghosts? Were you able to suspend your disbelief?  How? Do you need to?
Did you believe the archaeology?
What insights did the characters have about the landscape? About people?
Is there anything you would change about the book?
Or what are the best parts of this book?
A recent study about reading Jane Austen done by Natalie Phillips of Michigan State University found that certain kinds of reading, as stated in Shankar Vedantam’s NPR article on the study “activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.”  What parts of this book did that for you?

 Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2011. 
“I first read [the book] in a bright orange 2002 issue of The Paris Review and felt that old thrill of discovery . . . Every once in a while, over the ensuing nine years, I’d page through that Paris Review and try to understand how Johnson had made such a quietly compelling thing. Part of it, of course, is atmosphere. Johnson’s evocation of Prohibition Idaho is totally persuasive . . . The novella also accumulates power because Johnson is as skilled as ever at balancing menace against ecstasy, civilization against wilderness. His prose tiptoes a tightrope between peace and calamity, and beneath all of the novella’s best moments, Johnson runs twin strains of tenderness and the threat of violence . . . it might be the most powerful thing Johnson has ever written.” —Anthony Doerr, New York Times Book Review 

What story/stories is/are he trying to tell?
Book reviews talk about how this book is “perfectly” written as if it were a poem.  Can you give any examples of that? Do you agree?
What do you make of his visions and how they changed over time?  The wolf-child?
What do you make of the dog?
How does the beginning relate to the rest of the story?
How did the story change for you when you knew he was going to live into old age?
How did the pacing of the story influence it?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

 Where I was From by Joan Didion;  New York: Knopf,  2003. 

“[…] is a kind of bookend to her earlier musings on California, a reassessment and reappraisal of her thinking about her home state. It is a love song to the place where her family has lived for generations, but a love song full of questions and doubts. ''This book represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, confusions as much about America as about California,'' she writes, ''misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely.'' — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times Book Review 

How did the stories she chose to tell tie in with each other? Or not? Examples?
Give examples of the ties or lack of flow from one story to another?
How does the Lakewood story relate to the Sacramento Delta story?
Do the individuals she tells about have characteristics in common?
Do the California gyrations she describes differ from the rest of the nation?
How does her mother’s death fit with the stories she tells?
Which story resonated for you the most or made you the most mad or upset you the most? Why?
Do you have a relationship to any of the stories?


Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Richard Hallas (pseudonym for Eric Knight). New York: R.M. McBride, 1938.
“[…]for many noir aficionados, [this book] remains one of the most evocative and subversive novels of its time.   […]The book does read like James Cain filtered through Thomas Pynchon. Although Knight's first person narrative begins in typical tough-guy fashion, with Dick Dempsey, an Oklahoma-born AWOL Marine hopping a freight in Texas for Southern California in pursuit of his wife and son, it soon moves off in another, wilder direction — more like a noir Alice in Lotus Land than a cool and conventional hardboiled novel.” — Woody Haut , Los Angeles Review of Books

Is the narrator reliable? What is the evidence for why or why not?
Do all the pieces fit together in the descriptions?
Why does the narrator worrying over the minutiae of what Mamie knew or didn’t know?
What do you make of his lack of engagement with the people surrounding him?
Why did he love Sheila? And not the other women?
Are his relationships with people indicative of the time period?  Why is he so aloof with everyone but Sheila?
Is the story straightforward?  Give some examples for your answer.
Where is the place of the golden mountain that his father had the tire flat on?
What makes the novel seem so “surreal?”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Wisdom sits in Places by Keith H. Basso; Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. 
For more than thirty years, Keith Basso has been doing fieldwork among the Western Apache, and now he shares with us what he has learned of Apache place-names — where they come from and what they mean to Apaches. “This is indeed a brilliant exposition of landscape and language in the world of the Western Apache. But it is more than that. Keith Basso gives us to understand something about the sacred and indivisible nature of words and place. And this is a universal equation, a balance in the universe. Place may be the first of all concepts; it may be the oldest of all words.”-N. Scott Momaday, Publisher’s website.

Basso is very explicit about how to interpret the Apache conversations.  Was his explicitness illuminating the simple?  What simple?
Do some of the Western Apache proscriptions relate to those of a western European heritage? Is there a connection between this sort of wisdom and the Bible, Aesop’s Fables, etc. or the oral myths that help create society?
What did you think about the speech on 126-127?
Does the big cottonwood resemble a woman?  p. 142-143.
It was interesting that most of the place name described geologic rather than what was on top of the geology?  What do you make of that?
Can you give an example of  “Wisdom sitting in a place in your life?”
Do you have a story you can tell about a place name in your life?
Can we apply some of the “wisdom” to a contemporary lifestyle?


Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis ; New York : Harper Collins, 2003. 
We were privileged to have the author, Gayle Brandeis, coming to join us with our discussion of the book.  She joined us to discuss the process of writing the novel and answer any questions about the book and also discussed the recent release of The Book of Live Wires, the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds.
I also adapted some interview questions posed by the LA Review of Books ( to elicit conversation with Gayle.
Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill?
Disciplined or hot dog? 
Who is your imagined audience? Does it at all coincide with the real one? 
Who reads you first?
What character or story haunts you? 
She also told some stories about the making of the book and other members had lots of questions.

“Winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize, an award in support of a literature of social responsibility, The Book of Dead Birds is an intimate portrait of a young woman at a defining moment in her life, who stands at the intersection of two cultures and races. […]having just finished her graduate work, Ava leaves her native San Diego for the Salton Sea, where she volunteers to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural run-off.” — 
We had a magical time wandering through the Arboretum and the mist. It was an extraordinary experience for all of us.



Saturday, April 14, 2012, 2:00 p.m.

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck; New York : Viking Press. 1951. 
[…]”But Steinbeck took the world on its own terms then, as he would do if he were alive and writing today. […]And it is this clear-eyed view of the world in both its fecundity and its ongoing destruction that makes Steinbeck’s work such an absorbing account of a time long past. In an age when ocean-dwelling, and for that matter, land-dwelling, creatures are being depleted at an ever-increasing rate, Log […] remains an enriching and indelible document.” from Michael Antman,

What did you think when you learned that his wife accompanied them on the trip?
How did his alternating between philosophical musings and descriptions of the littoral fauna influence the narrative?
What did you learn about the Sea of Cortez during their trip that you found the most interesting, revolting, whatever, etc.?
Steinbeck’s language is often “tongue in cheek,” such as the joke about the “crabs” collected on shore.  How does this influence your reading of the book?
What did you make of the chapter that took place on Easter?
What did you make of his trying to put human behavior into the swirl of animal behavior? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams; New York : Pantheon Books. 1991. 
“As Utah-born naturalist Terry Tempest Williams records the simultaneous tragedies of her mother's death of cancer & the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, she creates a document of renewal and spiritual grace destined to become a classic in the literature of nature, women, & grieving.” from . 

• Does the last chapter change the tenor of the book?
• What do the birds tell us?
• How does her religion fit in?  Does her grandmother’s religion differ from her mother’s?
• Is her father his mother’s son?  What can you tell about their relationship from the book?
• How does the juxtaposition of the nature story and the medical story interrelate?
• Were there things she couldn’t tell about the survivors? Was there a reason she concentrated on her story, her mother’s story and her grandmother’s story?
• There were some odd edges, such as her move to the foothills or her archeological expedition.  How did these odd edges relate to the tight juxtaposition of the birds and water levels and the illnesses? 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Among Friends by M. F. K. Fisher, New York: Knopf, 1971. (image from San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983)
“Among Friends is M. F. K. Fisher's fascinating memoir of her childhood in Whittier, California. In sharing these memorable and moving portraits of her family and of the town, we are given an enchanting glimpse into the early life of one of our most delightful and best-loved writers.” from

What do you think Fisher’s reasoning was for reiterating several times about how Anne didn’t really like MFK as an adult?

Besides a childhood memoir, what other stories is she trying to tell.

How does her breezy, conversational writing style affect the story?

How does this language also affect her statements about death and disease?

Is it possible to give examples where this style, might help you see it from a child’s viewpoint?

What are some of the truths that she tells us?

What was the effect of MFK Fisher not stretching to tell the story beyond what “she” saw, such as never clearly describing all her parents absences to LA, etc.

Tell about an incident from your childhood that resonates from something MFK sparked by her writing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012, 2:00 p.m.

When the Killing's Done by T. Coraghessan Boyle, New York: Viking, 2011
“Principally set on the wild and sparsely inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, T.C. Boyle's powerful new novel combines pulse-pounding adventure with a socially conscious, richly humane tale regarding the dominion we attempt to exert, for better or worse, over the natural world.” from 
How does Alma’s pregnancy effect the story?
Where do the characters’ backstories lead us?
What does the raccoon and the rattlesnake do for the reader?
What happens to Anise’s mother?
Could the protagonists have done anything differently to resolve with a more positive interaction?
Why was LaJoy so angry?

Click here for the books and questions read and discussed in 2011.



Click here for the books and questions read and discussed in 2010.


New Books in the Arboretum Library - Late Summer 2010

It's back to school time and books are on the mind.  There are certainly lots at the Arboretum Library and the collection continues to grow.  We have new books for adults and children so make sure to stop by and check them out.  Lists of the new additions can be found in the Library catalog in “New Titles” in the “Lists” tab.
Below we've highlighted some of the new additions to the Library catalog.

One of the new children's book is Mother Earth and her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale by Sibylle Von Olfers.  Written in 1906 and translated from her popular German story, this book is illustrated with images taken from an amazing embroidered quilt that is full of captivating detail.

Another new book is What's Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?) by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth.  This book has three main sections to help identify and fix a variety of plant problems.  The first is a flow-chart like section that helps you identify the problem through straight forward yes or no questions. The flow-chart directs you to the second section, which describes how to fix it, and the third section, actual photographs of the condition.  Great for figuring out what's going wrong with your plants, if you are an Arboretum member you can check this book out and bring it home to read while staring at your problem plant.

While it isn't exactly a new book, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka, is a founding document of what has become known as permaculture.  This sustainable agriculture manifesto from 1978 continues to be influential in both practice and philosophy regarding food production.
Make sure to stop by the Arboretum Library to check out these and the other new books (as well as the rest of the collection!) during your next visit.

Library Spotlight - “Plant Discoveries: A Botanist’s Voyage Through Plant Exploration”

One of the many subjects covered by the Arboretum Library is botanical history.  Plant Discoveries: A Botanist's Voyage Through Plant Exploration by Sandra Knapp (Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books, 2003), is a beautiful book that describes the history of several major categories of plants.  She explains the historical and geographic background of peonies, roses, conifers, heathers and morning-glories, among others.  Stories about the explorers who first documented specific plants are combined with explanations of historical usage of others.  This hefty book is lavishly illustrated with historical botanical illustrations that mostly date from the late 18th to early 19th centuries.
To find this book in the Arboretum Library look here. 

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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