Colorado's Best Books of 2017 | Westword

Ten Great Books by Colorado Authors in 2017

Is any present greater than a book? Perhaps one written here in Colorado.
Books: good for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Solstice, or any day ending in a Y.
Books: good for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Solstice, or any day ending in a Y. stuartpilbrow at Flickr
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Thomas Aquinas supposedly said Timeo hominem unius libri — and if your Latin is rusty, that translates to “I fear the man of one book.” Aquinas was warning about single-mindedness of thought and education, of course, but this philosophy stands in stark contrast with actress Jean Harlow, who’s quoted as saying, “Don’t give me a book for Christmas. I already have a book.” This Christmas, we’d like to invite you to be more Aquinas and less Harlow.

That is to say: Books are some of the best gifts you can give for the holidays. They’re the building blocks of culture and compassion and conscious thought, and great googly moogly, do we need more of those things in 2018. Here are ten homegrown books from this past year that are more than worth a look.

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David Hicks
White Plains, David Hicks
Getting lost and finding one’s way again — that’s something to which every reader can relate. This tender and comic novel is told by linked story, and paints the picture of a man fumbling his way, step by measured step, toward wisdom. Written by co-director of the Mile High MFA at Regis University David Hicks, the book is not just written by a Colorado author, but is set here as well. One of those perfect Colorado gifts for those who live in this state — and those who might want to.

Adrian Miller
The President’s Kitchen Cabinet, Adrian Miller
Adrian Miller describes himself as “a food writer, recovering attorney, and certified barbeque judge.” So who better to pen a book examining the culinary history of the White House as told through the stories of the African-American staff members who created it? The President’s Kitchen: The Story of the African-Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas is an NAACP Image Award Finalist for Outstanding Literary Non-Fiction, so it’s not just a fascinating read — it’s also an important one.

David Boop
Straight Outta Tombstone, David Boop
Do you like a little six-gun with your science fiction? A little horror-on-horseback? Some fantasy with your faro, maybe a zombie take on Zane Gray? Denver writer David Boop serves as editor on this rollicking anthology of weird Western tales, showcasing stories by some of the biggest names in contemporary fantasy and sci-fi fiction. It’s a ten-gallon-hat full of wonderful weirdness.

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Amber Contorna
Refocusing My Family, Amber Cantorna
As the daughter of an executive with Colorado Springs’ Focus on the Family, Cantorna struggled for years with what she describes as the “suffering expectations” of her own family and the philosophy espoused by the organization that structured their lives. In coming out as gay in 2012, she lost everything. Focusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God follows Cantorna’s path from secrecy and shame to freedom, family and renewed faith.

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Robert Cooperman
Draft Board Blues, Robert Cooperman
Denver poet Robert Cooperman is a busy guy, having had two books released in 2017 (the other is his memoir-by-poetry, City Hat Frame Factory, about his family’s millinery in ’60s-era Manhattan). Draft Board Blues is a confessional of sorts, but more than a chronicle of draft dodging, it’s really about the national culture that created the war and the environment around it. It’s the story of an America in a troubled era, one not so unlike the America of today.

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Matthew Sullivan
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan
Author Matthew Sullivan used to work at Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore, so it’s no surprise that his novel is set in a bookstore and has a protagonist who uses books as clues to solve a cold case. It’s a literary thriller in the truest sense: It’s bookishly enthralling, and a love song to bookstores and those of us who still like nothing better than to spend an afternoon knocking around one.

Mark A. Barnhouse
The Denver Dry Goods, Mark A. Barnhouse
This lingering look at a Denver institution — one that closed in 1987 after eleven decades of service to the Mile-High City — is half fascinating history and half nostalgia. For anyone who ever ate the Chicken a la King at the Tea Room on the fifth floor, this is a taste of yesterday at the place Denver once boasted that everyone could “shop with confidence.”

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Helen Thorpe
The Newcomers, Helen Thorpe
We’ve mentioned Helen Thorpe’s important new book The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom several times since its debut, but here’s a reminder: As a gift idea, Thorpe’s book is tough to beat. It’s a “fresh and nuanced perspective” focusing on “timely and important issues.” And it’s set at South High, right here at home.

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Laura Pritchett
The Blue Hour, Laura Pritchett
Colorado author Laura Pritchett’s newest book begins with a tragedy and watches a small tight-knit rural community spin out from that point of genesis. Some rise, some fall, some rediscover themselves, and some find themselves lost, but all their stories are surprising and convincing. Pritchett writes with an evident love for the mountains and the people that call them home.

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Connie Willis
A Lot Like Christmas, Connie Willis
If you’re a little tired of the traditional Christmas stories — Christmas Carol-ed out, and sick of the various gifts from whatever magi you have handy — then give Colorado’s own Connie Willis a try. Her speculative spin on the holiday story is “just the right blend of sugar and spice,” according to Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly calls it “the perfect stocking stuffer.” Willis is a famed sci-fi writer, so it just makes sense that her take on the Christmas tradition would be out of this world.

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