Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s 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.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Warm the heart, feed the brain with a gift of Nevada books

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.

This column appeared this week in The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.