- 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.

May 29, 2019

The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson; Laura Ingalls Wilder, New York: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, ©2016.  

ISBN: 0062419692

“They mix Wilder’s common-sense advice, acute observations of Americana, and nostalgia for her childhood. Some radiate the pioneer virtues, spirited optimism, and pluck that give Wilder’s books enduring appeal. … A number of letters provide rich descriptions of road trips through California and the still untamed West. …Wilder’s letters display a writer who kept her head amid growing fame, remaining sweet, down-to-earth, and immensely likable until her death in 1957.”— Publisher’s Weekly

Available for the first time and collected in one volume, the letters of one of America’s most beloved authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder–a treasure trove that offers new and unexpected understanding of her life and work. The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a vibrant, deeply personal portrait of this revered American author, illuminating her thoughts, travels, philosophies, writing career, and dealings with family, friends, and fans as never before. This is a fresh look at the adult life of the author in her own words. Gathered from museums and archives and personal collections, the letters span over sixty years of Wilder’s life, from 1894-1956 and shed new light on Wilder’s day-to-day life. Here we see her as a businesswoman and author–including her beloved Little House books, her legendary editor, Ursula Nordstrom, and her readers–as a wife, and as a friend. In her letters, Wilder shares her philosophies, political opinions, and reminiscences of life as a frontier child. Also included are letters to her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, who filled a silent role as editor and collaborator while the famous Little House books were being written. Wilder biographer William Anderson collected and researched references throughout these letters and the result is an invaluable historical collection, tracing Wilder’s life through the final days of covered wagon travel, her life as a farm woman, a country journalist, Depression-era author, and years of fame as the writer of the Little House books. This collection is a sequel to her beloved books, and a snapshot into twentieth-century living.

June 26, 2019

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero, New York : Blumhouse Books/Anchor Books, 2018.

ISBN: 1101974443

“Cantero’s imagination is vivid, and the story, once it gains speed, continues at a breakneck, roller-coaster pace. He plays with form and style, which makes for an enjoyable romp. Fans of modern takes on Lovecraft and those that are nostalgic for the cartoons of their childhood will like this novel, which is also a sure bet for your Stranger Things-themed display. — Carolyn Ciesla, Booklist

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER “The story proves as cleverly witty as its title. It’s filled with high jinks both terrorizing and hilarious.” —USA Today
In 1977, four teenagers and a dog–Andy (the tomboy), Nate (the nerd), Kerri (the bookworm), Peter (the jock), and Tim (the Weimaraner)–solved the mystery ofSleepy Lake. The trail of an amphibian monster terrorizing the quiet town of Blyton Hills leads the gang to spend a night in Deboën Mansion and apprehend a familiar culprit: a bitter old man in a mask. Now, in 1990, the twenty-something former teen detectives are lost souls. Plagued by night terrors and Peter’s tragic death, the three survivors have been running from their demons. When the man they apprehended all those years ago makes parole, Andy tracks him down to confirm what she’s always known–they got the wrong guy. Now she’ll need to get the gang back together and return to Blyton Hills to find out what really happened in 1977, and this time, she’s sure they’re not looking for another man in a mask. A mad scientist’s concoction of H. P. Lovecraft, teen detectives, and a love of Americana, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a story filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy.

July 24, 2019

The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet, Introduction by Gray Campbell,  Foreword by Timothy Egan, 4th Canadian ed., 50th anniversary ed., North Vancouver, B.C. : Whitecap Books, ©2011.

ISBN: 9781770500372

“In 1926… [the author] packed her five young children into a twenty-five-foot boat and, for the next fifteen summers, they cruised the ragged, perforated coastline of British Columbia. Following deep, narrow fjords walled in by towering mountains, sheltering in uncharted coves, touring the abandoned winter villages of “the coast Indians”—Blanchet…created with her kids “a little realm of our own making” and explored it exhaustively. …[S]he produced a superlative text of travel writing and of the Pacific Northwest.— Murat Oztaskin, New Yorker,

The 50th anniversary edition of this BC classic, now in hardcover, will make a timeless keepsake. This is a biography and astonishing adventure story of a woman who, left a widow in 1927, packed her five children onto a 25-foot boat and cruised the coastal waters of British Columbia, summer after summer. Muriel Wylie Blanchet acted single-handedly as skipper, navigator, engineer and, of course, mum, as she saw her crew through encounters with tides, fog, storms, rapids, cougars and bears. She sharpened in her children a special interest in Haida culture and in nature itself. In this book, she left us with a sensitive and compelling account of their journeys.

August 28, 2019

The Library Book by Susan Orlean, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018. 

ISBN: 9781476740188

“[O]n 29 April 1986…the LA library caught fire, destroying more than 400,000 books and devastating the community reliant on its resources…This book is a homage not just to the spirit and resilience of those who rebuilt the library, but to those whose lives are transformed by these public palaces of reading, on both sides of the lending desk. …Orlean moves smoothly between dealing with the fire and its aftermath, the life of the resurrected library today, and its foundation and subsequent history.”— Alexander Larman, The Guardian

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club pick, a Washington Post top 10 book of the year, a New York Times Bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of 2018. “A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” — The Washington Post “Captivating…Delightful.” — Christian Science Monitor, * “Exquisitely written, consistently entertaining” —The New York Times * “Mesmerizing…Riveting.” —Booklist (starred review)

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution–and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries–from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post. On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.'” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library–and if so, who? Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before. In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present–from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves. Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books–and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.


September 25, 2019

True Confessions: A Novel by John Gregory Dunne, New York: E.P. Dutton, ©1977.

ISBN: 1560258152

“In crime novels, information is everything…and in [this book] all this is done with brilliance. The flow of the narrative, at times garrulous, gossipy, inventive, deadpan and above all ironic, disperses information in a manner that allows Tom Spellacy to act on it and close the narrative net until it captures the truth–which in the nihilistic world of jaded police and clergymen doesn’t do anyone a bit of good. [It] is a novel that even the least sensitive readers can feel vibrate in their hands.”—J. Kingston Pierce, Rap Sheet

In 1940s Los Angeles, an unidentified murder victim is found bisected in a shadowy lot. A catchy nickname is given her in jest–“The Virgin Tramp”–and suddenly a “nice little homicide that would have drifted off the front pages in a couple of days” becomes a storm center. Two brothers, Tom and Des Spellacy, are at the heart of this powerful novel of Irish-Catholic life in Southern California just after World War II. Played in the film version by Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro respectively, Tom is a homicide detective and Des is a priest on the rise within the Church. The murder investigation provides the background against which are played the ever changing loyalties of the two brothers. Theirs is a world of favors and fixes, power and promises, inhabited by priests and pimps, cops and contractors, boxers and jockeys and lesbian fight promoters and lawyers who know how to put the fix in. A fast-paced and often hilarious classic of contemporary fiction, True Confessions is about a crime that has no solutions, only victims. More important, it is about the complex relationship between Tom and Des Spellacy, each tainted with the guilt and hostility that separate brothers.

October 30, 2019

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui, New York: Abrams Comicarts [2018]. 

ISBN: 9781419718786

“What hardships does a person suffer that force one to flee home for a better life in the United States? And what is it like to assimilate in a country whose citizens often don’t want you here?…[T]hese questions are raised with great sensitivity in…a beautiful and haunting illustrated memoir…and [the author] has invested great care into an epic account of her family’s wartime lives in Vietnam and their escape to this country in the late 1970s. [This] is also a tender tribute to Bui’s parents’ struggle to raise a family; with age, she comes to a greater understanding of all they have sacrificed to secure better lives for their kids.” John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle

National bestseller, 2017 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Finalist, ABA Indies Introduce Winter / Spring 2017 Selection, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Spring 2017 Selection, ALA 2018 Notable Books Selection. An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui.   This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.   At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent–the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.   In what Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

November 19, 2019 (Tuesday)

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley, New York : W.W. Norton, 1998.

ISBN: 0393045390

“Socrates, drunk and enraged, murdered… for which he spent 27 years in the penitentiary. Now he wants to do something good…He is …a fully dimensioned, unexpected character with something to say…He has also evoked an entire world of language, strivings and personalities that few…readers will have encountered in their own lives. Moreover, Mosley is a …Wynton Marsalis of the printed page, his themes subtly, obliquely, quietly stated, almost imperceptibly bubbling up from the rhythms of ordinary life…[W]e gain a sustained and compelling view of a struggle for redemption we won’t soon forget.”—Richard Bernstein—New York Times

From the best-selling author of A Little Yellow Dog — the eagerly awaited debut of Socrates Fortlow, a bold and original new hero. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned introduces Walter Mosley’s most compelling new character since the debut of his immortal detective Easy Rawlins: one Socrates Fortlow, a tough, brooding ex-convict determined to challenge and understand the violence and anarchy in his world — and in himself.Three decades ago, the young Socrates had, in a burst of drunken rage, murdered a man and a woman with his huge rock-breaking hands. Twenty-seven years of hard time in an Indiana prison followed. Now Socrates lives in a cramped, two-room apartment in an abandoned building in Watts, scavenging bottles and delivering groceries for a supermarket. In each of the stories that comprise this richly brooding novel, Socrates Fortlow, like his namesake, explores philosophical questions of morality in a world beset with crime, poverty, and racism. He is an unforgettable presence and his perceptions cast a glow of somber lyricism upon an often harsh world. Socrates is a creation of stunning originality; the book he inhabits is Walter Mosley’s most powerful and eloquent to date.


December 17, 2019 (Tuesday)

The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Rios, Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, ©2014.

ISBN: 155659173X

“This delightful, provocative collection is subdivided into five sections that are not easily categorized. Rios, who grew up in the borderland culture of Nogales, Arizona, writes about this culture and his childhood…family and local legends… the Sonoran desert and its animal life…and the complexities and wonder of human experience and human relationships…Rios deals with both the real and the imagined, often moving from the former to the latter. Deceptively simple language lures the reader into the rich, original landscape of the poet’s vision.” Felice Aull—Literature, Arts, Medicine Database

National Book Award finalist Alberto Ríos explains the world not through reason but magic. These poems–set in a town that straddles Mexico and Arizona–are lyric adventures, crossing two and three boundaries as easily as one, between cultures, between languages, between senses. Drawing upon fable, parable, and family legend, Ríos utilizes the intense and supple imagination of childhood to find and preserve history beyond facts: plastic lemons turning into baseballs, a grandmother’s long hair reaching up to save her life, the painted faith jumpers leaping to the earth and crowd below. This is magical realism at its shimmering best. “Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception, and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond. With humor, compassion, and intelligence, Ríos’s poems overlay a child’s observation and imagination onto our society of daily inequity, poverty, and violence. The light of memory shines on culture, language, family, neighbors, and friends saving them all in stories that become legends, a light so sensual and full it is ‘swallowed into the mouth of the eye, /into the throat of the people.'”–National Book Award Judges’ comments “Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie… Whether talking about the smell of food, the essence of a crow or a bear’s character or of hard-won human wisdom, Ríos writes in a serenely clear manner that enhances the drama in the quick scenes he summons up.”–The New York Times Book Review “… Rios’s verse inhabits a country of his own making, sometimes political, often personal, with the familiarity and pungency of an Arizona chili.”–The Christian Science Monitor “Alberto Ríos is the man you want to sit next to when it is time to hear a story.”–Southwest BookViews “InThe Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Alberto Ríos doesn’t borrow a myth. Rather, he finds the myth underlying his own life–myth that translates effectively because it is not confined by language. The images of Ríos’ life are so vivid, it is as if he has written a picture book that anyone can understand.”–The Home & News Tribune “In his new book of poems, Alberto Ríos has given us evidence and motive for celebration. Ríos’ poems follow a path of wonder and gently move us to emotional truths that grab our breath and link our inner and outer landscapes. His alchemy works a transformation in the inner vision, turning us toward the deeper mystery of life itself.”–American Book Review Alberto Ríos teaches at Arizona State and is the author of eight books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir about growing up on the Mexican border. He is the recipient of numerous awards and his work is included in over 175 national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music.

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