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Tuesday, December 17; 7:00PM - 8:00PM

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, letters, graphic novels, etc.  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  Please RSVP to Susan if you plan to attend.


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.

January 29, 2020

Exile and Pride by Eli Clare; Foreword by Aurora Levins Morales, Afterword by Dean Spade, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015.

ISBN: 0822360314


February 26, 2020

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett, New York, London: Harcourt Brace, 1997. 

ISBN: 9780151002634

March 18, 2020

Rogue River Journal by John Daniel, New York: Avalon, 2006. 

ISBN: 9781593760519

April 29, 2020

Bruja: a dreamoir by Wendy C. Ortiz, Fairfax, Va.: CCM, 2016. 

ISBN: 193786569X


May 27, 2020


Latinx Writing Los Angeles: Nonfiction Dispatches From a Decolonial Rebellion by Edited by Ignacio López-Calvo and Victor M. Valle; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, [2018]. 

ISBN: 1496202414


June 24, 2020

Attendance by Rocio Carlos; Rachel McLeod Kaminer, Brooklyn, NY: The Operating System, ©2018. 

ISBN: 9781946031327


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