Reno in pop culture

A new book takes a long, in depth look at a subject close to the hearts of Renoites—Reno.

Reno’s Big Gamble/Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City by Alicia Barber was published by the University Press of Kansas. It takes a look at Reno in part through the lens of popular culture—magazines, television, movies, novels, even postcards and true detective magazines. It’s a history of Reno, but told in a different way from earlier such histories, through the sources of the city’s public image.

Although the author is a scholar—this book is an outgrowth of her University of Texas at Austin thesis, and she is now a visiting history professor at the University of Nevada, Reno—the text is not daunting. It is written in a casual tone and even serious conclusions seem to offer hints here and there of the author’s amusement with the city’s unusual public profile.

“With a service economy reliant on consumer demand almost from the beginning, Reno found a specialized niche in catering to the human desire for liberation, of one kind or another,” Barber writes. “The fact that the industries that earned Reno the most national attention were the very sort of industries that tended to detract from community stability, or to stand in seeming opposition to civic responsibility, was an unforeseen (or, in some cases, foreseen but largely unlamented) consequence of orienting the heart of the city to a transient population.”

The book is illustrated with many of the things, like a Life magazine cover and old postcards, that helped create the public image Barber analyzes so carefully. Much of the information in the book will be new and surprising, even to residents of Reno.

It sells for $35 and is available at Sundance Bookstore.