When TIME magazine put Byrne on its cover back in '86 and called him "Rock's renaissance man", some people shrugged it off and said "yeah, right". Well, that caption has more than withstood the test of time. I can't think of anyone who's been as prolific on so many artistic fronts.
Most recently, he's been quite prolific in his online journal, which itself is a mind boggling display of the incredible range of topics constantly churning through Mr. Byrne's gray haired head.
First and foremost, David Byrne's art (yes, even Talking Heads) is about design. So, as with his previous books, the first thing you notice about the book is its design. "Strange Ritual" was black with big gold letters; the idea was to make it feel and look like a Bible.
Then came "Your Action World", which was huge, and had rubber covers. Not sure what the deal was on that (although a great book in the annals of anti corporatism).
After that, he did a mini Bible called "The new Sins", which by and large, turned the teachings of the real Bible upside down (literally, the book itself could be read upside down or right side up, and in Spanish or English, depending on your mood or bilingual proficiency).
Anyway, "Arboretum" has the look and feel of a library book on certain subjects, maybe philosophy or archaeology, or psychology, in short, an academic look and feel about it.
I started reading this book by just selecting pages at random. By approaching it this way, at first the various drawings have an automatic, stream of consciousness writing feel to them. There's a 4 foot pullout in the back of the book, however, which covers a bunch of topics, corresponding to the various diagrams on numbered pages of the book. If you read the book this way, then the tree diagrams begin to make a lot more sense.
On the latter note, it was Byrne who coined the term "Stop Making Sense". I always took that as "let go of reason, and let the spirit and subconscious take over". As it turns out, Byrne is a very methodical fellow. While he draws heavily from dreams and the subconscious, he prefers to stick to a fairly rigid structure in his concert tours. This aesthetic also emerges in the book, for the most part, and sort of contradicts the whole notion of "Stop Making Sense".
At any rate, Byrne is indeed a true renaissance artist by any definition, and it's always a thrill to see and hear what he's up to next. If you're a long time fan, this is definitely worth buying. If you're nostalgic for a Talking Heads reunion and consider that period his finest hour, you're not likely going to enjoy much of his post TH work or this book.