Ready to start a new chapter? Here are the ten best books about Colorado:
Does James Michener play a little fast and loose with the facts in this doorstop-sized classic? Sure — it's historical fiction, not a textbook. But the sprawling epic portrays some of Colorado’s most dramatic history (the Sand Creek Massacre, for example) while telling the story of the fictional titular city in Weld County from the late 1700s all the way through the 1970s. And if the sheer length of the novel seems a little daunting, a gorgeously over-dramatic and star-studded mini-series of the book was made in 1978. Both the book and the mini-series are worth experiencing, for very different reasons.
One could argue until (ahem) the end of the world about which Colorado-connected book by Uncle Stevie is best: The Shining would be the clear choice of Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel, and number-one fans of Misery will undoubtedly protest. But The Stand is Stephen King’s magnum opus — or one of them, at least — and much of it is set right here in Colorado…even if it’s a little nerve-racking to talk about the Project Blue pandemic these days.
If you haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s seminal work since you were a kid, you owe it to yourself to give it another shot. Like the Beat Generation that it helped define, the book is barely restrained chaos, but at the same time, it's poetic and affecting and memorable. (So much so that we keep writing about it.) The book may not take place altogether in Colorado, but its roots are here, courtesy of Neal Cassady, Five Points, My Brother’s Bar, and the wandering spirit common at a mile high.
Kent Haruf’s eastern-plains town of Holt, Colorado, may be solely fictional, but it manages to capture the spirit of an entire landscape not in (or in the shadows of) the mountains for which the state is usually known. Told from multiple perspectives, the book reveals much about the small-town life and population of the prairie lands that begin to the east of Denver and just keep going throughout the Midwest.
A 2019 finalist for the National Book Award, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s collection of short fiction tells the stories of women in Denver, Latina culture, family and culture and place. Fajardo-Anstine is a local whose family has deep roots in the Mile High City — and this book is proof of that connection, that understanding, that fierce love.
Peter Heller has written a handful of novels, most of which have some Colorado connection — but none so direct as The Dog Stars, his debut, a post-apocalyptic story set in our state following a (yikes) worldwide viral disaster. It’s an enthralling and suspense-filled yarn that Playboy praised as “one of the most powerful reads in years.”
Later-to-be-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo wrote Eclipse in 1935 about the Colorado town of Shale City, based on Grand Junction, where he was raised. The thinly veiled satire of life there wasn’t all that well received locally at the time, but the years have been kind to Trumbo, re-creating him into a favorite son of sorts. This book is a great place to start understanding why — and to get a good sense of one of the twentieth century’s most interesting writers.
If you love the Tattered Cover — and if you’re a literary fan in Colorado, you surely do — then you’ll love Matthew Sullivan’s delightful simulacrum of Tattered in Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. And Sullivan knows of what he speaks: He spent years working at the Tattered Cover, taking notes on the personalities, lives and culture of the place. And maybe playing a what-if sort of game about murder and mystery that reaches well beyond the imagination.
Sandra Dallas’s career is long and storied, and for good reason. From her nonfiction to her 1991 debut novel, Buster Midnight’s Cafe, to her most recent novel, Westering Women, Dallas has delighted readers who love historical situations and vibrant characterization. Her 2007 novel, Tallgrass, set at Amache, the Japanese internment camp in Colorado, is both fascinating and of supreme importance, especially in today’s world, where the “othering” of our fellow human beings is tragically once again front and center.
This is the book that started the ignition on the late Gary Reilly’s multi-book series about Denver cab driver Brendan “Murph” Murphy. His goals are simple: to make just enough cash driving his cab to support his modest lifestyle, and to never get involved in the drama of his customers. He’s not great at the first, and terrible at the second — and that’s just the start of the promise, and the charm, of this very Denver series of stories.