- 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.

June 27, 2018

Not Without Laughter by by Langston Hughes New York: A.A. Knopf, 1930.

ISBN: 9780143131861

“Although […]semi-autobiographical, the family Hughes created for Sandy was quite unlike his own. Hughes said: “I wanted to write about a typical Negro family in the Middle West, about people like those I had known in Kansas.” Hughes based the fictional town of Stanton on Lawrence, and many of the people, places and events in the novel were inspired by real people, places and events that Hughes knew or experienced during his childhood […].” — Maria Butler, Lawrence Journal-World

Our greatest African American poet’s award-winning first novel, about a black boy’s coming-of-age in a largely-white Kansas town When first published in 1930, Not Without Laughter established Langston Hughes as not only a brilliant poet and leading light of the Harlem Renaissance but also a gifted novelist. In telling the story of Sandy Rogers, a young African American boy in small-town Kansas, and of his family–his mother, Annjee, a housekeeper for a wealthy white family; his irresponsible father, Jimboy, who plays the guitar and travels the country in search of employment; his strong-willed grandmother Hager, who clings to her faith; his Aunt Tempy, who marries a rich man; and his Aunt Harriet, who struggles to make it as a blues singer–Hughes gives the longings and lineaments of black life in the early twentieth century an important place in the history of racially divided America. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.


July 25, 2018

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine New York: Grove Press [2015]. 

 ISBN: 0802122140

“The narrator, Aaliya Saleh, is a septuagenarian literary translator who has stayed in Beirut […] For most of the novel, she walks through her neighborhood in West Beirut, remembering how it used to be […] She recalls past lovers and favorite books, as well as the bitterness of her family life. In Aaliya’s case, estrangement from her relatives and from the city she lives in has led to an internal emigration.” —Robyn Creswell,  The New York Review of Books

Winner of the California Book Award Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist for the National Book Award “Beautiful and absorbing.”–New York Times
An Unnecessary Woman is a breathtaking portrait of one reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, which garnered a wave of rave reviews and love letters to Alameddine’s cranky yet charming septuagenarian protagonist, Aaliya, a character you “can’t help but love” (NPR).
Aaliya’s insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and her volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. Here, the gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman’s life in the Middle East and an enduring ode to literature and its power to define who we are. “A paean to the transformative power of reading, to the intellectual asylum from one’s circumstances found in the life of the mind.”– LA Review of Books
“[The novel] throbs with energy…[Aaliya’s] inventive way with words gives unfailing pleasure, no matter how dark the events she describes, how painful the emotions she reveals.”–Washington Post


August 29, 2018

Southland by Nina Revoyr, New York: Akashic Books, ©2003

ISBN: 1888451416

Revoyr spins out several parallel narratives in “Southland,” deftly skipping back and forth among scenes set in the mid-’90s, the World War II era and the mid-’60s, when the memories of racial harmony in the Crenshaw District were shattered by the ugly reality of racial violence in the streets of Watts. The plot line … is the stuff of … a Walter Mosley novel, but it is elaborately intertwined with strands of urban history, family memoir and personal confession, all of it recounted with a certain sentimentality that one does not expect in hard-boiled fiction. — Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

The second novel from the author of the acclaimed book, The Necessary Hunger, Southland is a compelling story of race, love, murder and history, set against the backdrop of Los Angeles. Jackie Ishida is in her last semester of law school when her grandfather dies unexpectedly. While trying to fulfill a request from his wills, Jackie finds herself pulled into the unreported deaths four black teenagers, killed during the Watts Riots of 1965. In the process, Jackie unearths the long-held secrets of her family’s history – and her own.

September 26, 2018

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964

ISBN: 9780374533878

“[The book] is widely recognised as his supreme achievement as much a work of compressed brilliance as Chopin’s Ballade No 4. It is also, Isherwood said, “the only book of mine where I did more or less what I wanted to do. It didn’t get out of control.” His fiction was always a transistorised reorganisation of his own self. As he developed, his fictional persona became progressively more complex, yet truer to himself. In this novel, it emerges as a character that’s both independent, yet deeply connected to its author.”—Robert McCrumm, The Guardian

Welcome to sunny suburban 1960s Southern California. George is a gay middle-aged English professor, adjusting to solitude after the tragic death of his young partner. He is determined to persist in the routines of his former life. A Single Man  follows him over the course of an ordinary twenty-four hours. Behind his British reserve, tides of grief, rage, and loneliness surge–but what is revealed is a man who loves being alive despite all the everyday injustices. When Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man first appeared, it shocked many with its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in maturity. Isherwood’s favorite of his own novels, it now stands as a classic lyric meditation on life as an outsider.

October 24, 2018

They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars, New York: Talonbooks, 2013

ISBN: 9780889227422

November 27, 2018

109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005

ISBN: 0743250087

Conant focuses on the day-to-day experience of the scientists, technicians and families stationed at Los Alamos… While her protagonists are brilliant men and women, they’re also vibrant characters who chafe at authority, fall in love, argue over housing and drink to excess. …[T]he book highlights the creation of a unique place and time in which that bomb could be built, and Conant brings to life the colorful, eccentric town of thousands that sprang up on a New Mexico mesa and achieved the unthinkable.— Publishers’ Weekly

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant, charismatic head of the Manhattan Project, recruited scientists to live as virtual prisoners of the US government at Los Alamos, a barren mesa thirty-five miles outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant, charismatic head of the Manhattan Project, recruited scientists to live as virtual prisoners of the U.S. government at Los Alamos, a barren mesa thirty-five miles outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thousands of men, women, and children spent the war years sequestered in this top-secret military facility. They lied to friends and family about where they were going and what they were doing, and then disappeared into the desert. Through the eyes of a young Santa Fe widow who was one of Oppenheimer’s first recruits, we see how, for all his flaws, he developed into an inspiring leader and motivated all those involved in the Los Alamos project to make a supreme effort and achieve the unthinkable.

December 18, 2018

Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser, Pittsburgh, Pa. : Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000 

ISBN: 0887483364

“In 1999 Kooser developed cancer and, gave up… for a while, his writing. His return to poetry came in the form of a correspondence with his friend and fellow writer, Jim Harrison, to whom Kooser sent a daily poem pasted on a postcard. The resulting collection…was characteristically self-effacing, avoiding direct references to his illness, and subsuming his experience into metaphors about the countryside around him.” —The Poetry Archive

A collection of poetry by Ted Kooser.


© 2015 Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden • 626.821.3222 • 301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007 • Website Design by Kirk Projects.

© 2015 Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens

Phone: 626.821.3222

301 N. Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA, 91007

Site Design by Kirk Projects