Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Five top books on Las Vegas

Matthew O'Brien is an author and journalist who's lived in Las Vegas since 1997. His first book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, chronicles his adventures in the city's underground flood channels. His second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, is a creative-nonfiction collection set in off-the-beaten-path Vegas.

One of five notable books about Las Vegas he discussed with Eve Gerber at The Browser:
How I Got Cultured
by Phyllis Barber

You’ve cited five books that take us from mid-century to modern day. Let’s start with a reminder of what Nevada was before the neon on the strip started to outshine the rest of the state. Tell us about the memoir of Phyllis Barber, How I Got Culture.

It’s a unique book. First, a woman wrote it – men write most books about this town. Second, it’s about someone who grew up mostly in Boulder City but also in Las Vegas, someone who had a normal upbringing. A lot of the literature on Vegas is about strange dysfunctional characters, even clich├ęs. I think what I like most about this book is just how unexpected it is. It’s a beautifully written memoir about a young Mormon coming of age in the Las Vegas of the 1950s.

What does this book tell us about the state that surrounds the strip and the friction between the state’s Mormon roots and the mores of its gambling centres?

She grew up in a Mormon family while Vegas was becoming a sacrilegious place in a lot of ways and she struggled with religion. It’s not one of those over the top stories – it’s a very minimalist tale about growing up here and struggles with normal stuff like trying to make the dance team at high school. But it’s written so beautifully that the story carries you along and it does give you a sense of the time and the place.

Mormons don’t have the influence in Nevada that they used to have. They are influential in law, banking and other businesses but not in tourism or gaming.
Read about another book O'Brien tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue