Explore Reno/Tahoe’s past, present and future through the words of local authors.
By Annie Flanzraich
In his 1871 book, “Roughing It,” Mark Twain famously described Lake Tahoe as “surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” Almost 75 years later, Walter Van Tilburg Clark called Reno the “city of trembling leaves,” in his novel of the same name. Reno/ Tahoe’s beauty and complexity have ignited the creativity of writers in all generations, so it would be impossible to list all of them in a single article. However, it is possible to recommend a few recent reads that capture the region’s history, spirit and imagination.
From fiction to non-fiction, a variety of Reno authors have captured pieces of the city’s essence.
Learn how the city transformed from “Sin Central,” as Garrison Keillor observed, to “The Biggest Little City in the World,” in local historian Alicia Barber’s book “Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City.” Barber chronicles the city’s changing fortunes from the days of the Comstock Lode through the early 2000s.
For a closer look at the history of the downtown Reno Riverwalk District, pick up a copy of “Images of America: Reno’s Riverwalk District,” written by Courtney and Chris Meredith, owners of award-winning local design, marketing and advertising agency, Design on Edge. Like “Reno’s Big Gamble,” “Reno’s Riverwalk District” covers the period between the mid-1800s to almost present day.
No list of Reno authors would be complete without the mention of Guy Clifton, one of the city’s favorite writers who tells the stories of Nevada and Nevadans. Clifton’s written six books, including a history of the Reno Rodeo; two volumes of “You Know You’re A Nevadan If … ;” “Dempsey In Nevada,” about former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey’s days in the Silver State; “Johnson-Jeffries: Dateline Reno,” a look at the 100th anniversary of the famous heavyweight title f
ight; and, “Reno,” a photographic history of Reno for Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series.
More focused on the present than the past? For an almost definitive list of the region’s best experiences, read “100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die,” by Mikalee Byerman. From art experiences to outdoor adventures to epicurean delights, Byerman dishes up itineraries and ideas to explore Reno and its surrounding areas. Or, escape reality with Claire Vaye Watkins’ 2012 book of short stories set in Reno, “Battleborn,” which won The Story Prize, among other awards. In 2012, the National Book Foundation named her a “5 under 35” honoree.
“surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” – Mark Twain on lake Tahoe
Perhaps it’s the vastness and depth of Lake Tahoe that inspires many authors to write mysteries set in or around it. Many of the lake’s authors and stories focus on the unknown waiting to be known.
To solve the case with Tahoe’s own Sherlock, Owen McKenna, check out one of Todd Borg’s 17 books in his “Owen McKenna Tahoe Mysteries” series. The books follow McKenna, a former homicide inspector in San Francisco who moved to South Lake Tahoe after a tragic event. Borg published the most recent “Tahoe Mystery, Tahoe Deep,” in 2019.
Follow the fictional Rachel Winters, a Lake Tahoe resident frequently accompanied by her dog, Bella, who finds herself embroiled in murder, mystery and romance in the Tahoe Basin and beyond in the four-part “Mountaingirl Mysteries” series. The series is the brainchild of South Lake Tahoe Author Jennifer Quashnick, who holds a master’s degree in environmental science and health and has spent more than 15 years advocating for scientifically supported policy making to protect Lake Tahoe’s environment and rural communities.
Perri O’Shaughnessy, the author of 12 Nina Reilly legal thrillers, is actually the pen name for two sisters, Mary and Pamela O’Shaughnessy. These passionate thrillers are set against the lush Lake Tahoe landscape and tell the story of attorney Nina Reilly, another Tahoe transplant from San Francisco.
While solving these mysteries before the protagonists do may be a challenge, finding their books is easy. In Reno, head to Sundance Books and Music on California Avenue, or Grassroots Books near Midtown. In South Lake Tahoe, try Keynote Used Records & Books or Bookworks, a used bookstore that supports the Tahoe Family Resource Center. sundancebookstore.com; grassrootsbooks.com; tahoefrc.org
When you want to dig into a good book this spring, try one of these local authors for a fascinating tale that’s close to home.