Nevada makes a lasting literary impression
Over the years, many famed writers have fallen under the Silver State’s spell.
One of the earliest was Mark Twain, who spent about two years in the state in the early 1860s, and wrote a book about his Nevada experiences, “Roughing It,” published in 1872. The writer poked fun at many aspects of the state and in particularly the inhospitable nature of parts of Nevada.
For instance, he wrote, “some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, that he would come here and look around, while, and then get homesick and go back to hell again.”
Even the first history book written about Nevada noted that the state wasn’t quite like any other place. The Thompson & West’s History of Nevada, written by historian Myron Angel and published in 1881, noted, “Nature was in her eccentric mood when forming this region, and turned out some strange results from the store-house of time.”
More than a century later, a couple of other writers spent time in the southern half of the state and were equally amused by what they saw. Blackjack players and authors Lance Humble and Carl Cooper described Las Vegas as looking “like somebody took one of Lberace’s jackets and made a city out of it.”
However, journalist Chuck Palahnuik viewed the glittery city and came up with a more romantic take: “Las Vegas looks the way you’d imagine heaven must look at night.”
In the mid-20th century, it was Reno—not Las Vegas—that fascinated many writers. For instance, in 1945, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, author of “The Oxbow Incident,” penned “City of Trembling Leaves” about his adopted hometown. In that book, he wrote affectionately about downtown Reno: “The trees of the Wingfield Park-Court Street region dispense an air of antique melancholy. You become sad and old as you walk under these trees, even on a bright, winter day when all the leaves are gone and the branches make only narrow shadows across homes covered with sunlight.”
Of course, not everything written about Nevada has focused on Las Vegas and Reno. Richard Lillard, author of “Desert Challenge,” wrote in 1942: “Seen by a Californian or a New Yorker, Nevada is unorthodox, impious, backward, and undeveloped, and yet hospitable, individualistic, romantic. It is the home state for extremes.”
In the late 19th and early 20th century, naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, hiked through many of Nevada’s remote mountain ranges. In 1918, he wrote a book describing his travels, “Steep Trails.” In it, he noted, “Nevada is one of the very youngest and wildest of the states; nevertheless, it is already strewn with ruins that seem as gray and silent and time-worn as if the civilization to which they belonged had perished centuries ago.”
But when it comes to having the last word on the Silver State, few have ever said it as well as one of Nevada’s most beloved writers, the late Robert Laxalt. In his 1977 book, simply titled “Nevada,” Laxalt wrote: “It is in the hinterland that one finds the old heart of Nevada. The hinterland of Nevada is a country of far horizons broken only by mountain barriers lost in the haze of distance, and unexpected green valleys that break upon the traveler’s eye with the breathstopping impact of a mirage.”
Hard to argue with that.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.