Ten Colorado Books for Gift-Giving 2021

Books are Santa's favorite gifts. Be like Santa.
Books are Santa's favorite gifts. Be like Santa. Pixabay

The holiday season is upon us, which means you’re probably starting to stress about how to show your love to family and friends through some retail. Peace on Earth? Too hard to wrap. Good will toward men? Wow, way to bring the patriarchy into it.

A book is one of the few gifts you can give that not only supports the arts, but also makes you look like a smarty-pants. After all, reading is fundamental. It leads to empathy and deeper thought — two things we are in clear need of now. What’s also needed these days is support of the arts, especially local arts. So if you’re getting a book as a gift, make it more personal by picking one by a Colorado author.

Look no further than this list for some of the best options, and bonus points if you buy these books as a local joint. Denver has lots of them, and they’re all important to the community. There are Tattered Cover, BookBar, Capitol Hill Books, Westside Books, Mutiny and many more. Crossing someone off your gift list while also supporting the local arts and local business? That’s what we call a holiday trifecta.

Santa Fe Writer's Project
What If We Were Somewhere Else?
Wendy Fox

Short story collections sometimes get short shrift in the literary marketplace, but every year there’s a new one that’s just waiting to knock your readerly socks off with some pithy, character-based journeys. In past years Colorado has seen great works come out of the state, such as Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina and R.L. Maize’s We Love Anderson Cooper, and 2021 brought us Wendy J. Fox’s What If We Were Somewhere Else? Fox's book consists of linked stories that ask how a group of former employees of a recently closed corporation manage to move on and begin to rebuild careers, lives, and their essential selves. Fox's last book, If the Ice Had Held, earned a spot on the 2019 edition of this annual list, too.

Memorial Ride
Stephen Graham Jones and Maria Wolf
From the fertile mind of University of Colorado Boulder writing professor and author Stephen Graham Jones comes a book that its publisher, the University of New Mexico Press, calls a “high-speed ragtag chase across the Southwest.” Memorial Ride is part Western, part road movie, part ’80s grindhouse thriller, and quintessentially American. Jones’s script marries Wolf’s art to bring about a vibrant and violent story — one that just might be true.

Vanished Denver Landmarks
Mark A. Barnhouse
Denver historian and writer Mark A. Barnhouse gave us two books in 2021: this one, Vanished Denver Landmarks, is a wide-spanning recollection of spaces the Mile High City has lost throughout its history. From commercial buildings to stately homes to all things in between, it’s a walk through the Denver streets that you can only see in the mind’s eye. Barnhouse’s other book, Tattered Cover Book Store: A Storied History,
is worth a look too.

The Guide
Peter Heller
Peter Heller isn’t just a great Colorado writer — he’s one of the modern literary faces of the state. His books, even when they aren’t set in Colorado, still offer a kinship to the state and its way of life. Heller’s latest, The Guide, happens to be set in Colorado, and it’s full of fishing and mystery, adventure and murder. And if that doesn’t appeal to the piscatorial thriller in you, you might need to surrender your waders.

The Jewish Book of Horror
Josh Schlossberg
Josh Schlossberg had a good year in 2021, and not just because he edited another terrifyingly entertaining collection of local-grown horror. The Jewish Book of Horror is just as good to stuff a stocking as it would be for one of the nights of Hanukkah, courtesy of the twisted creative minds in the Denver Horror Collective. Schlossberg’s own recent novel, Malinae, was covered by Westword earlier this year and was recently named Novella of the Year by the Horror Authors Guild.

click to enlarge G.P. PUTNAM'S AND SONS
G.P. Putnam's and Sons
A Certain Appeal
Vanessa King
Have a friend who’s completely into burlesque? Or NYC? Or Pride and Prejudice? How about all three, rolled up into a glittery Big Apple translation of the Jane Austen classic story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? That’s what Colorado author Vanessa King creates in A Certain Appeal, which reviewers can’t talk about without using terms like “saucy,” “sassy,” “sizzling” and “steamy.” And that’s only the ones that start with the letter S.

The Boundaries of Their Dwelling
Blake Sanz
Blake Sanz teaches writing at the University of Denver, and his latest work, The Boundaries of Their Dwelling, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. This linked collection explores how immigrant and native characters are shaped by absent family and geography. With prose both lyric and accessible, it’s a debut collection that Publisher’s Weekly calls “notable,” claiming that it “brims with moments of culture shock and of characters negotiating with the tenuous hold on the land they call home.”

Grieving Mall
R. Alan Brooks and Sarah Trapl
Graphic novels, as a form, have a lot to offer the literary scene, and Denver’s R. Alan Brooks has been working the form for some time now, with works including The Burning Metronome and Anguish Garden. Now he’s back with artist Sarah Trapl to take on the subject of loss and emptiness within our modern history. Grieving Mall is a beautiful look at a tough subject — just what literature is supposed to accomplish.
click to enlarge LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
Little, Brown, and Company
The Cape Doctor
E.J. Levy
Gorgeous. Thoughtful. Heartbreaking. These are all words ascribed to E.J. Levy's 2021 historical novel The Cape Doctor, about the life of Dr. James Miranda Berry, who was born an impoverished Irish girl in Cork and grew up to be an accomplished and acclaimed male doctor in Cape Town. It’s a story that took place long ago but speaks directly to the environment of gender equality and recognition, which is at the forefront of our national discussion today.

The Dead Husband
Carter Wilson
Denver author Carter Wilson has been putting out thriller after satisfying thriller for years now, and winning more than one Colorado Book Award along the way. So chances are good that his work already has a spot on a lot of Mile High shelves. His latest, The Dead Husband, is a “chilling” story written with “surgical precision.” It’s the sort of tale that takes hold of you and doesn’t let you go. You know, the way it feels when your aunt with the prickly upper lip gives you your holiday hug.

Have other suggestions for 2021 Colorado authors perfect for gift-giving? Share them at [email protected]
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen