Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Review: Vanishing Village

Author -Evan Blythin
Genre - Non-Fiction

It seems that community is most likely to happen under a big tree with a few beers--but not too many beers. The focal point of author Evan Blythin's new book about the village of Blue Diamond, NV is the "Tree Bar."

The "Tree Bar" started spontaneously when miners and other residents of the village gathered by several cottonwood trees to relax with a few beers after work. On weekend nights regulars gather to visit, barter, and make music. Eventually, the "Tree Bar" became somewhat more institutionalized, but I won't give away the story. This gradual institutionalization is at the heart of the struggle for community that Blythin, a retired UNLV professor and 30+ year resident of Blue Diamond, presents in his book.

The professor part of Blythin doesn't get in the way of getting to the heart of village life. He initially connected to the village because he could climb and trim trees, despite being a professor. Later he got involved in the village Advisory Council and was active in opposing a number of political threats to the village, such as corrupt county officials and a developer who wanted to put in 8,000 houses nearby.

As described in the book, Blue Diamond villagers seem much more like a family than pretty much any other neighborhood in the Las Vegas Valley. This is a distinction the villagers are well aware of. Visitors and new residents are considered "turoids" until they have made enough effort to show they are committed to the life of the village.

A few residents never make it to the belonging stage. Yet, the villagers are open minded enough to welcome a wealthy New Yorker who only spends part of the year in the village, yet obviously appreciates the effort it takes to make community there.

While some in the Las Vegas metropolitan area--or what Blythin simply calls the "megalopolis"--complain about the lack of community, others arguably moved here in part so they could be anonymous. The main differences between the megalopolis and the village come down to differing relationships to people, places, and things--including animals, trees, and junk, etc.

Don't write-off this book just because it has a local author talking about a local subject. I found it to be a well-written and thought-provoking book, with implications far beyond the local context--along with giving a glimpse of what Las Vegas may have been like when it had a population of 500!

I highly recommend this book!

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