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One Book, One Denver goes to the dogs -- but why not take a bite of a Colorado book?

When I equated the One Book, One Denver program with a McDonald's Happy Meal -- people-pleasing and easy to digest -- I didn't know that McDonald's had signed on to sponsor this year's celebration of reading, which will focus on The Art of Racing in the Rain.

But hey, at least it's better than Borders, which sponsored last year's program even though this is a city still full of independent bookstores.

And The Art of Racing in the Rain, the 2011 pick that Mayor Michael Hancock announced last Thursday, certainly has its fans, many of whom defended the choice of the dogcentric book over dinner last night. And in that way alone, the program's choice succeeded: If a Labor Day party can turn into a literary salon, One Book, One Denver is doing its job.

But still, couldn't it do its job even better if we were reading a tome that touches on Colorado -- or even celebrated a Colorado author? Here are a half-dozen books that I'd love to see become the focus of next year's One Book, One Denver:

1. Roughing It. No, Mark Twain didn't live here, but he traveled to Colorado in its early days, and his account is hilarious -- and historically telling.

2. On the Road. No, Jack Kerouac didn't live here, but Neal Cassady did, and Kerouac's visit here in the late '40s inspires much of the rhythm that drives beat classic On the Road.

3. Plainsong. Kent Haruf's lyrical look at life on the Eastern Plains of Colorado was just out when Denver introduced its One Book, One Denver program almost a decade ago. At the time, it was deemed too racy -- but we think Denver is ready for a little teen sex, particularly when the ending is so uplifting.

4. Ask the Dust, by John Fante. This East High grad spent most of his adult life writing in California, but he's a true homegrown talent.

5. Nothing Daunted. New Yorker editor Dorothy Wickenden used the letters of her grandmother to resurrect the true tale of two society girls who headed off on a grand adventure to become teachers in 1916 Colorado.

6. Butcher's Crossing. John Williams helped create an incredible literary scene at the University of Denver decades ago, and seven years after his death, his reputation continues to grow -- with good reason, as Alan Prendergast reports in his award-winning "Like an Open Book."

In connection with his profile of Williams, Prendergast offered up five ways to improve the One Book, One Denver program. Do you have others suggestions for a book Denver should read? Post it below.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Michael Hancock comes out against the paid sick leave ballot initiative."


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