“The Earth Knows My Name” by Patricia Klindienst

By Shelly Kilroy, Librarian

Even in books for adults, pictures can be important.  After reading The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst, our Art & Gardens Book Discussion Group agreed that we would have loved to see pictures of the gardeners and their gardens and even to have some recipes using the unique foods they grew.

In this series of essays on the gardens of ethnic Americans, from Native Americans to Japanese and Italian immigrants among others, the author shows the strong connection to the land that these groups of Americans hold.  Though many of us thought the book missed the mark in terms of garden descriptions and discussion of the unique plants each gardener cultivated, we all really came to like each of the gardeners and so wanted to see them and their gardens, see the land and plants they so lovingly cared for…and pick up some new recipes!  During our discussion we even chose favorite gardens or gardeners. Our choices ranged from the gardens of a community of descendants of slaves living on St. Helena Island in South Carolina to a group of Khmer gardeners who had escaped Cambodia’s civil war and genocide by coming to America in 1982 to the vineyard of a Polish immigrant living on Bainbridge Island in Washington.  But even without the recipes and photographs, we found this book to be a great introduction to some very interesting people and their gardens.

Next month we will shift our focus to the art world, reading and discussing Edmund deWaal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes:  A Family’s Century of Art and Loss.

Art and Gardens Book Discussion Group is open to members of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Great discussions of great books take place the first Tuesday of each month from 1-3 PM.

RSVP to Shelly Kilroy at 616-957-3144 or skilroy@meijergardens.org

“A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold

By Shelly Kilroy, Librarian

It is rare that a book that was published over 60 years ago is still completely relevant for our times today.  Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac is just such a book.

It is still relevant because we are still battling the same environmental problems and still need to understand Leopold’s Land Ethic…gaining a respect for and understanding of the land before any tinkering begins.  But even beyond that, this book is just great writing.  In our discussion of the book several people noted the poetic nature of the writing that just drew you in to the place Leopold was writing about.   We all agreed this book is a true classic that is still relevant and still a beautiful read over a half century after it was written.

This was our last discussion before summer break.  We will get together again in September to read and discuss Ruth Ozecki’s novel All Over Creationand in months to come we will also be reading and discussing:

“The Moon and Sixpense” by W. Somerset Maugham

By Shelly Kilroy, Librarian

One great thing about a book discussion group is that all the different viewpoints about the book can really open up your eyes.  And not only that, it makes for some really great discussion.  My first impression of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence was that it was just okay, I expected more from such a well-known author.  But in our discussion on April 5th I realized that maybe there was a lot more to this book than meets the eye.

Image courtesy Penguin Publishing

On the surface The Moon and Sixpence is about the fictional artist Charles Strickland who leaves his comfortable home and family life to pursue his overwhelming need to paint.  But if you look below the surface you come to realize that the main character in the book may not be Charles Strickland after all, but instead art itself and the almost blinding drive experienced by some people to make art.  And that is something I may not have pondered if it weren’t for those other wonderful ways of seeing in our group.

Next month our book turns to the natural side of things and we will be discussing A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold.  After this book we will take a break for the summer and gather together for more reading adventures in September.  Look for the list of books we will be reading in my next entry after our May meeting.

“Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” by Michael Pollan

By Shelly Kilroy, Librarian

If you’ve ever read anything that stimulated more questions than answers you’ll know how we all felt as our Art & Gardens Book Discussion Group read and discussed Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education.

Despite its subtitle, Pollan’s book is not really about gardening but about where people fit into nature and how we should interact with it.  Should we have more of the wild in us or bring more “culture,” what I read as intentional thoughtfulness, to our conduct with nature?  Do our environmental problems have more to do with our “habits, technologies and economic arrangements” than with the earth’s resource limits or our population numbers?  Not to mention whether separating human from nature is a true and beneficial separation.  Would we do better to acknowledge ourselves and our culture and cities as part of nature and practice more thoughtful interactions with the rest of the living world?  I have to say we didn’t come up with any answers, good discussion, lots of differing viewpoints, but no clear-cut answers.

Our discussion group agreed that whether we agreed with Pollan or not, whether his ideas were really supported by any science or not, his book did make you think. I believe we would all recommend this book, and others by him, for generating great discussion.


Art and Gardens Book Discussion Group is open to members of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Great discussions of great books take place the first Tuesday of each month from 1-3 PM. April’s selection is The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham.

RSVP to Shelly Kilroy at 616-957-3144 or skilroy@meijergardens.org

“Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa” by R.A. Scotti

By Shelly Kilroy, Librarian

Who knew that Leonardo daVinci’s Mona Lisa had been stolen in 1911…and that Pablo Picasso was one of the suspects in the crime? These fascinating topics and more made for a great read and a great discussion when the FMGSP Members’ Art and Gardens Book Discussion Group met in January to discuss Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti.

Scotti’s book reconstructs what little is known about the theft, the investigators and the suspects, while creating a most interesting picture of the times and culture of the early 1900s as well as fascinating details on the painting in question. All this made for a lively discussion revolving around whether the Mona Lisa would have the same international popularity it enjoys now if it had not been stolen and the world press at the time had not followed the story so closely. Most concluded that she, and her mysterious smile, would still beguile the world whether or not she had disappeared. The one culprit who was captured (there may have been others) said he did it because he wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, its rightful home before, he believed, it had been stolen by Napoleon. This fact led to discussions on whether museums should be allowed to show and profit from works that were obtained as plunder of war or other uncertain means. Many other topics were raised and discussed, making for an enjoyable and thought-provoking afternoon.


Art and Gardens Book Discussion Group is open to members of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Great discussions of great books take place the first Tuesday of each month from 1-3 PM. February’s selection is A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.

RSVP to Shelly Kilroy at 616-957-3144 or skilroy@meijergardens.org