A slice of Northern Nevada

Rollan Melton’s new collection of columns is simple and poignant

Rollan Melton’s column has long been a staple of the Reno Gazette-Journal. During his 23 years as a columnist, Melton has taken us on many journeys through Nevada history, shown us the lives of people in the Reno spotlight, and given us a glimpse into the everyday struggles of working men and women. His latest book, 101 Nevada Columns, showcases the last 13 years of his Nevada prose.

The other day, I mentioned to a friend that I was doing a review of Melton’s new book. She told me that she never reads his column, because she never knows the people he writes about.

But this is the exact reason why so many do read his column. He illustrates Nevada’s past using the stories of his subjects as his paintbrush. Through his words, we are introduced to Nevada legends such as Robert Laxalt and Bill Harrah, but more importantly, to Nevada unknowns such as shoeshine man Sol Dartch and a favorite Fallon teacher, Anne Gibbs Berlin.

Reading this collection of stories, I felt my emotions run the gamut from laughter to deep sadness. Melton is never above poking fun at himself, which is shown best in his column about being a guest of honor with a stuck tuxedo zipper. His comedic style is very apparent in this summation of a potentially embarrassing moment.

On the other end of the spectrum, I found myself fighting back tears as I read about Richard Walter Weaver’s last moments aboard the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. Even though I have read countless renderings of “the day that shall live in infamy,” it was Melton’s script that really put a face to this horrific tragedy:

“Early on the morning of the day that would live in infamy, Weaver and Richard Brown, former star high school athlete in Chowchilla, Calif., had breakfast in the ship’s mess. They probably checked signals: shore leave at 10 a.m., then to the Temples’ home. At 7:55 a.m., the first of two waves of Japanese bombers and Zero fighters from carriers pounced on Pearl Harbor … They were killed at gun No. 6 when the Arizona was shattered by a single armor-piercing bomb that sliced through several desks, exploding in the forward magazine. The stricken ship sank in nine minutes.”

After reading this book, it became apparent that the key to Melton’s popularity is his simple writing style. He does not write above people’s heads, but he also does not write down to them. The unembellished nature of Melton’s writing never overpowers his stories and, most of the time, makes it all the more poignant.

This book is a quick read and should be intriguing to anyone who has lived in the Truckee Meadows for any amount of time. The variety of subjects will continually hold your interest, even when Melton discusses people or places you have never heard of. I never was an avid reader of Melton’s column, but this book has made me a fan.

In Melton’s author’s note, he tells us, "Newspaper stories are supposed to be disposable, but they also are written for posterity, because journalists write the first draft of history, as the saying goes." Well, one thing is for sure: Rollan Melton has definitely written the first draft of Northern Nevada’s recent history.