City closes the book on One Book, One Denver -- the adult version, at least

A trip across the plains over Thanksgiving reminded me how much I love Kent Haruf's books -- 1999's Plainsong and its sequel, Eventide, at least. (Benediction, the third in the sort-of series about the fictional town of Holt, seems almost like a parody.) Haruf, who now lives in Salida, grew up on the high plains of Colorado, and his words capture the beautiful starkness of that setting. Consider this from Eventide: "He wanted to think of words that would make some difference but there were none in any language he knew that were sufficient to the moment or that would change a single thing." See also: Sixteen years after his death, no so famous novelist John Williams is finding his audience

As I was thinking about Haruf's books, I was reminded that none of them had ever been selected for the One Book, One Denver program, which John Hickenlooper introduced early in his first term as mayor of Denver as a way to get the city on the same page - literally. But Plainsong's teen-age sex scene made it too racy for the first pick, Hickenlooper's selection committee determined, and instead went with Leif Enger's Peace Like a River - a small-town yarn about life in rural Minnesota, instead of life in rural Colorado.

And thinking about that got me wondering what Denver would pick next for a program that had been serving the literary equivalent of a Happy Meal for close to a decade; the ninth book, chosen in the fall of 2012 by popular vote, had been Enrique's Journey.

Turns out, there won't be a tenth selection. The One Book, One Denver program has died out - at least for adults. "The program was successful initially from the standpoint of promoting a culture of reading and community through shared experience, but participation has declined throughout the last few years," says Daniel Rowland, spokesman for Denver Arts & Venues. So instead, the city will focus on a pint-sized version of the program, which in 2013 had kids reading The Capitol Ghost Mystery by Michelle Barone. Three juvenile books are now being considered for 2014: Savvy by Ingrid Law, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Alvin Ho: Allergic To Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look.

For more adult fare, the city is promoting The Big Read, the National Endowment for the Arts program started in 2006, which the city also relied on for its reading choice in 2009. In 2014, the Big Read will be pushing Marilynne Robinson's PEN/Hemingway award-winning novel, Housekeeping -- but the city won't be in charge of the program in Denver.

Instead, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop will be carrying the torch for the Big Read here in Denver -- but the city will host the kickoff ceremonies on January 24 at the McNichols Building.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun