Landscape Arboretum cultivates readers with a new garden-themed book club.
Gardeners and bookworms, unite! The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is launching a "book club-style" class series to explore the garden's role in literature, from classic to contemporary.
Led by teacher/author Toni McNaron, University of Minnesota professor emerita of English, each lunchtime session will begin with some background on the book and author, followed by discussion.
We talked with McNaron, who specializes in Renaissance and women's literature, about her plans for the club, her own garden and her position on literary slackers.
Q Why a garden-themed book club?
A Susan Hamerski is now running educational programs at the arboretum. She ran the Compleat Scholar program at the U, and we've worked together for years. She broached the idea to me, and I got very excited.
A The idea of gardens is a deep Jungian idea. When you say "garden," white Western culture thinks of Eden. The garden is a mythic, iconic place.
Q How were the books chosen?
A These are books I've known and taught for years. [Selections include "Gardens in the Dunes" by Leslie Marmon Silko, "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Kew Gardens" by Virginia Woolf and "Quite a Year for Plums" by Bailey White.] The main criterion was good writing. And a garden, or gardening, had to be a central part of the narrative.
Q Will the club's size be limited?
A Yes, probably no more than 25 or 30. Any more and it's not a club, it's a lecture. Fifteen to 20 is ideal.
Q Have you led other book clubs?
A Oh, heavens, sure! I've been doing a women's reading group for 32 years.
Q What's the secret of a successful book club?
A Having a paid leader. Most book clubs become more social than literary. That's great, to get together and talk, but call it a social hour, not a book club. The other thing that fails is if the leader does all the talking. Then it's destined to die. It has to be led by someone interested in interactive pedagogy, someone asking, "What can I do to get them to focus on the story?"
Q What's your position about people who show up without having read the book?
A I'm happy to have them come, but they'll be asked to talk.
Q Are you a gardener?
A I began gardening in utero. My mother was an inveterate gardener. ... She was planting the last four months of her pregnancy, and I've gardened ever since.
Q Where and what do you grow now?
A I live in south Minneapolis. I love my garden. I have a big yard, with a garden in front and back -- all flowers. There is not a blade of grass in my front yard, which I think is terrific.
Q Will the book club move outdoors once the weather improves?
A Oh, no, no. Too distracting.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784