How to Read the American West: Indie Bookstores and a Day Out in Reno

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Reno bike day fun day. Headed from the museums up into the Carson Range foothills for a baby shower/bbq.
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Our Independent Bookstore Day goodies and purchases, including How to Read the American West in the foreground.
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A dose of Reno pride on Holcomb Street as we ride by. Much food for thought after beginning my reading.

This past Saturday, Renee organized a full Reno day for us, we left the house at 8:15 headed first stop for Sundance Bookstore, which was celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day with a free goodie bag giveaway to the first 25 customers. We were officially first, arriving about 10 minutes before the store opened (although not by much). I love browsing in Sundance and indie bookstores in general. In contrast to a chain store, where I feel drowned and need to just get what I’m looking for and get out, a friendly bookstore like Sundance invites browsing and reflection. Browsing, one book caught my eye, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. I’d never heard of the author before, but I’m very interested in interpretations of landscape and so I snapped the book up (and a signed copy to boot!).

From Sundance (after a detour for tea and coffee in the neighborhood), we rode up to UNR and took part in Free Museum Day. We visited the Natural History Museum, the Keck Geology Museum, the Anthropology Museum, the Library Special Collections display and the Nevada Historical Society. The collection (and the live animals!) at the Natural History Museum were great, but my imagination was more caught by the geology museum, set in an old building and filled with dazzling (literally in many cases) specimens from Nevada and around the world, and the Nevada Historical Society, especially its Reno exhibit.

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A Reno divorce era newspaper article, with an oddly worded caption and a divorcee riding a cow into a bar, six guns blazing.

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The Phone Booth, great neon sign at the Nevada Historical Society.
From there, onward up through subdivisions built into the slopes of the Carson Range to a baby shower, then back down the hill to Craft Wine & Beer‘s Txakoli Festival. Afterward we were pretty beat and had a leisurely afternoon ride home. Even though we’d been on our bikes since early morning, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day and so we rode out our neighborhood dog walking site/elementary school and sat along the old farmland beyond the school and watched the moonrise over Hidden Valley and the Virginia Range.

I’ve been reading in How to Read the American West and it is a really interesting and a bit more rigourous, less metaphysical take on landscape that my earlier explorations, but an interesting read and what I think will be eye-opening in many ways. Here are a few of the lessons from the first chapter that have been giving me food for thought. I hope to develop and apply these principles to later posts, but for now I’ll just list what the author gives as his “Tips for Navigating Western Landscapes”:

  • Appreciate the role of time.
  • Recognize that landscapes are expressions of the interplay between nature and culture.
  • Follow the path of water.
  • Recognize the importance of scale.
  • Pay attention to the edges in the landscape.
  • Develop an eye for measuring landscape density.
  • Ask who controls the landscape.
  • Make connections between western places and the cultures that shaped them.
  • Understand how the modern latinization of the West is the region’s most extreme recent cultural transformation.
  • Visit vernacular landscapes.
  • Inventory symbolic landscapes and representations of places.
  • Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.

Note: These are quotes, but this is not a bulleted list in the book. This is the order in which they are given. See pages 5–15. Full citation: Wyckoff, William. How to Read the American West: A Field Guide (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).

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Night sky as we unwinded from the day. I’m really looking forward to applying lessons and insights from my new book into my “reading” of landscapte.

I find landscape to be fascinating and have been exploring it in my mind (and physically) for a long time. It will be a good exercise I think to have a more systematic approach to what I think about when I think about it.


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