How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir

Overview

Growing up as a Mormon in Nevada during the 1940s and 1950s, Phyllis Barber felt sequestered on the barren margins of a sophisticated and exciting world. Set in and around Las Vegas, America's neon temple of Cold War pop culture, Barber's narrative recalls her early search for any token of artistic and social significance that might survive the austere demands of her religion and the drabness of her desert home. The book is also a coming-of-age story, and the two selves Barber depicts--one on a dauntless quest ...
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Overview

Growing up as a Mormon in Nevada during the 1940s and 1950s, Phyllis Barber felt sequestered on the barren margins of a sophisticated and exciting world. Set in and around Las Vegas, America's neon temple of Cold War pop culture, Barber's narrative recalls her early search for any token of artistic and social significance that might survive the austere demands of her religion and the drabness of her desert home. The book is also a coming-of-age story, and the two selves Barber depicts--one on a dauntless quest for culture, the other stumbling through adolescence--often converge and drive each other onward. In the ensuing mix of themes and images, Barber's twisting, turning search for sophistication is further complicated by her burgeoning sexuality and yearning for peer acceptance. Born in 1943, Barber spent most of her early childhood in Boulder City, Nevada, minutes from the Hoover Dam and close enough to an atomic test site that an occasional mushroom cloud could be spied in the distance. Bothered by such tenuously checked, apocalyptic power, Barber found solace in neither the patriotic attitudes of Boulder City's residents nor the ready-made answers of Mormonism. When she was twelve, her father suddenly resigned his high post in the Boulder City ward of the Mormon Church and moved the family to "another planet called Las Vegas." Already awakened to the prospects of the larger life, Barber began in earnest to expand her horizons. Barber was something of a piano prodigy and a proficient dancer as well. The arts, she soon learned, could be the path of least resistance around her parents' objections to her increasing worldliness. Usually centering on lessons, rehearsals, and performances, her recollections are dotted with wonderfully peculiar characters and situations, signposts that guided--or misguided--her search for culture: a piano teacher reputed to moonlight in a cowboy bar; her father's drag burlesque of a hula dancer at a church talent show; a job as a
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this account of her Mormon childhood in Nevada in the 1940s and early '50s, Barber notes that at age 12 she began ``to feel rumblings inside that I might exist as a separate entity from my family.'' That premonition was gradually realized after her family moved from the sheltered government-town ambiance of Boulder City, where her father was a Hoover Dam employee and a Mormon official, to ``another world called Las Vegas.'' A piano prodigy, Barber relished preparing for her featured roles in Mormon socials, but it was during her high school years in Las Vegas that she explored a larger, less inhibited world. Barber recounts how she became a member of the Las Vegas Rhythmettes, and her disappointing meeting with visiting maestro Leonard Bernstein, with self-deprecating humor and a youthful brio in a memoir that captures a vivacious girl's efforts to express herself within contradictory milieux. Barber, a professional pianist, teaches in Vermont College's graduate writing program. (July)
Library Journal
Winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, Barber's book describes growing up in Nevada in the 1950s. The young Phyllis struggles with her strong Mormon faith, the expectations of her friends at Las Vegas High School, and her artistic urges, which she expresses through piano playing and dancing. Her introspective asides show us how these disparate forces came together. Re-creating experiences from performing in a church talent show to watching a nuclear bomb test to modeling in a Las Vegas casino, Barber evokes a uniquely Western adolescence. Recom mended.-- Gwen Gregory, U.S. Courts Lib., Phoenix
Booknews
A remembrance of growing up in 1940s and 1950s Las Vegas--America's neon temple of Cold War pop culture. Barber recalls her early search for any token of artistic and social significance that might survive the austere demands of her family's Mormon religion and the drabness of her desert town. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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