In case you are approaching wit’s end as Christmas Day looms around the bend, and you’ve still not come up with that unique gift for that unique Nevada friend or family member, may I be so bold as to suggest a gift that will give pleasure for years to come — a book about Nevada or by a Nevadan. The choices are as varied as the Nevada people and landscape.
A couple of books coincide with the state’s sesquicentennial.
Prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher has penned his retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.
In a similar vein, the hefty coffee table book “Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State” weighs in with a wealth of information about Nevada locales written and photographed by dozens of well-known and highly skilled Nevadans.
Speaking of locales, UNLV history professor Eugene Moehring has recently published his “Reno, Las Vegas, and the Strip: A Tale of Three Cities,” which looks at the post-war development of Nevada’s largest metropolitan areas and their role reversal over the years.
Places are important but it is the people who made Nevada. Just out is a biography of one of the more colorful characters to call Nevada home after being run out of other places. “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker” by Dallas Morning News writer Doug Swanson fills the bill, taking the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.
Of course, we must mention two new books by longtime Nevada columnist and author John L. Smith, whose Las Vegas Review-Journal columns for three decades have explored the characters who have created the modern Nevada. He is out with a new nonfiction collection of interviews with people whom he gives room to roam in their own voices, “Vegas Voices: Conversations with Great Las Vegas Characters” — gamblers, sheriffs, singers, dancers, members of the Black Book, musicians, cops, teachers and athletes. Some names you’ll recognize and others you’ll wish you did.
Then there is his collection of fictional short stories based on a rogues gallery of very real rogues whose names have been changed to protect the author. These “fictional” characters hang out in very real dives, bars and casinos in “Even a Street Dog.” I believe I’ve shared a drink with John in a few of those places.
The newest book is not about Nevada but is the latest fictional endeavor by longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist, Vin Suprynowicz, who spent two decades shaping the editorial pages of the Review-Journal. It is a mystery called “The Testament of James,” which may remind one of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
It opens with the manager of a rare book store in New England dead of mysterious circumstances and a rare book — the aforementioned “Testament of James,” the possibly real but possibly nonexistent gospel of Jesus’ younger brother — missing. It is chock full of tidbits, such as the fact Jesus was called the son of the father, which in Aramaic is “bar” for son of and “abbas” for father, thus Jesus Barabbas. So who was the crowd demanding be freed?
While the earlier books are largely available in bookstores and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, Vin’s book is available at AbeBooks.com, along with three other books he has penned. John Smith’s other books are also available online.
Also check out Range Magazine’s website for “Brushstrokes & Balladeers:
Painters and poets of the American West,” a beautiful collection of 84 cowboy poems and 80 Western paintings from 29 artists. I leave mine lying about and read a couple of poems at random when the mood strikes.
Range also has “Go West: The Risk & The Reward,” which tells us that, though the earlier explorers called this a “country of starvation,” hardy people have been able to survivor and thrive. The gorgeous panoramic photographs alone make this book a valuable addition to your bookshelf.
Then, “The M Bar” is a collection of Old West tales from cowboy Harry Webb, as is “Call of the Cow Country,” both recounting true stories about cowboys, Indians and outlaws.
May you curl up with a good book and a good companion this Christmas.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.