- 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.


January 30, 2019

There There by Tommy Orange, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.

ISBN: 9780525520375

“As Opal’s mother says, ‘You have to know that we should never not tell our stories.’ [It] describes how untold stories can become a wound, and how false stories hurt. Perhaps to tell your own story is an attempt to heal, at least a little…[The book] itself is a kind of dance. Even in its tragic details, it is lyrical and playful, shaking and shimmering with energy. The novel dips into the tiniest personal details and sweeps across history. Orange, like Orvil, creates beauty out of tragedy. Yet the novel remains a warning about the desolation that results when you separate parents from their children and try to eradicate a people.”—Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, The Guardian.

“This is a novel about what it means to inhabit a land both yours and stolen from you, to simultaneously contend with the weight of belonging and unbelonging. There is an organic power to this book–a revelatory, controlled chaos. Tommy Orange writes the way a storm makes landfall.” –Omar El Akkad, author of American War
Tommy Orange’s “groundbreaking, extraordinary” (The New York Times)
There There is the “brilliant, propulsive” (People Magazine) story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day.
It’s “the year’s most galvanizing debut novel” (Entertainment Weekly).
As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow–some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent–momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.
There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It’s “masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating” (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard–a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.

February 20, 2019

After/Image by Lynell George, Santa Monica, Calif.: Angel City Press, 2018. ©2017.

ISBN: 9781626400535

“[It] is the result of this award-winning journalist’s years of contemplating and writing about the arts, culture, and social issues of Los Angeles, always with an emphasis on place and the identity of the people who live in—or leave—… [She] explored place after place that makes the city tick, met person after person, and encountered the cumulative heart of the city. … [Her] reportage focused on Los Angeles beneath-the-surface—both the past and the here-and-now ”—Publisher’s website


March 20, 2019

Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade, New York: W W Norton, 2016, ©2015.

ISBN: 0393242986

“[She] knows these characters and this world [northern New Mexico]; she knows their importance, their reality, and their humanity…Instead of cultural tourism, there is authorial assuredness and the earnest investigation of human experience. …[Her] fiction invokes a circus of a different name and is closer to the meaning of carnival itself: a site of inherent contradictions where the wounds and revels of the flesh are a means to access the holy. With each story we experience… a moment in which profane reality is transformed into the visceral, messy, and revelatory sacred.”—Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, The Georgia Review

With intensity and emotional precision, Kirstin Valdez Quade’s unforgettable stories plunge us into the fierce, troubled hearts of characters defined by the desire to escape the past or else to plumb its depths. The deadbeat father of a pregnant teenager tries to transform his life by playing the role of Jesus in a bloody penitential Passion. A young man discovers that his estranged father and a boa constrictor have been squatting in his grandmother’s empty house. A lonely retiree new to Santa Fe becomes obsessed with her housekeeper. One girl attempts to uncover the mystery of her cousin’s violent past, while another young woman finds herself at an impasse when she is asked to hear her priest’s confession. Always hopeful, these stories chart the passions and obligations of family life, exploring themes of race, class, and coming-of-age, as Quade’s characters protect, betray, wound, undermine, bolster, define, and, ultimately, save each other.

April 24, 2019

Making Time by William L. Fox, Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard, ©2007. 

ISBN: 1593761333

“Fox’s book is a linked series of five essays on the complicated way that the natural world coexists with big-city Los Angeles. …He is at his most memorable in explaining the peculiar balance between urbanism and industry in Los Angeles; he describes a number of places where Los Angeles the global city disappears and an entirely different landscape — wilder or more industrial — takes it place.”—Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times

William L. Fox is a longtime explorer of cognition and landscape — the notion of what makes a space into a place. In this book he turns his gaze on Los Angeles, a city dominated by the movie industry, which specializes in bringing places from far away in time into what we experience as here and now — making time, in essence. Time, Fox tells us, is the most invisible nature of all, “its effects are always and everywhere around us.” The five essays of this collection take us to the Le Brea Tar Pits and local oilfields, the telescopes and telecommunication towers of Mt. Wilson, massive landfills, the Forest Lawn Memorial and Griffith parks, a Hollywood special effects firm, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. All of these facilities are devoted to manipulating time on our behalf, be it how we represent prehistory, attempt to maintain an identity after death, or make movies on Mars. A master of combining science, history, and his own experiences into a riveting read, Fox will make you look at L.A. — and any urban landscape — in an entirely new way.

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.

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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