Gift-giving can be a challenge. After all, we can’t all afford to buy our loved ones new Audis, each with a big red bow and parked at a jaunty angle in the manicured driveway of an Architectural Digest house while a light and completely unthreatening snow falls but does not accumulate. (Can we all agree that we do not like people who live like that?) So what is a real person with a real budget to do for presents this year? Books, folks, books.
In that spirit (the holiday one, not the one in which we hate on the Audi people), here are ten home-grown Colorado books with a little something for every paginated taste, from literary fiction to memoir to poetry to the spectrum of genre: fantasy, thriller, romance and more. Any one of these books would make a great gift under whatever tree you might have handy. Or, you know, your Festivus pole. We’re all-inclusive.
Mad Boy, Nick Arvin
Let’s start the list with the inimitable Nick Arvin, a graduate of the famed Iowa Workshop, a recipient of awards from Isherwood, the American Academy of Arts and the NEA, to name only a few. Oh, and he makes his home here in Denver, where he just keeps writing books that are damn fine reading. His latest, Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812, is set during America’s “Forgotten War,” but it’s really about the same things that all of his books are deliciously about: the human condition, and the things we’ll do to survive.
Her Kind of Case, Jeanne Winer
Boulder attorney Jeanne Winer first came to the attention of readers with her novel The Furthest City Light, and she returned to bookshelves in 2018 with Her Kind of Case. Winer’s unique take on the legal drama is effective evidence of every day of her decades of service as a criminal defense lawyer, and also reveals a quick wit, characters that convince, and what ends up being much more than a mystery.
Rough Beauty, Karen Auvinen
Award-winning poet, University of Colorado Boulder instructor, and former Colorado Artist-in-Residence Karen Auvinen at one point retreated to a primitive cabin in order to live in peace as a working writer while embracing all that nature has to offer. When a fire consumes not only the cabin, but also every word she’d written in her time there, Auvinen is faced with having to reconcile her want for solitude with her need for community. Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living is the lyric, pitch-perfect telling of that reconciliation, capturing both the spirit of the Rocky Mountains and the people who make it home.
In the House in the Dark of the Woods, Laird Hunt
The New Yorker praises University of Denver professor Laird Hunt's In the House in the Dark of the Woods as “striking, sensual prose.” Fans of Hunt’s work have come to expect lyric journeys into strange and entrancing places, and this new novel is no exception. A story centering on colonial New England and the witchcraft-obsessed culture of its leaders has been written before, but not like this: with true horror. You’ll never think of American history in the same way again — and that’s a good thing.
Steampunk Banditos: Sex Slaves of Shark Island, Mario Acevedo
Denver’s Mario Acevedo returns to his Felix Gomez series (which began with the titillating local title Nymphos of Rocky Flats) with book seven, Steampunk Banditos: Sex Slaves of Shark Island. Is it subtle? Not at all. But it ain’t supposed to be, and Acevedo knows exactly how to pour on the sex, violence, sci-fi and horror in exactly the right rollicking measures. If you’ve been reading the Felix Gomez series, you’ll want to continue it with this book — and if you haven’t, you’ll want to consider starting. Side note: Acevedo was one of the editors of the short fiction collection Blood and Gasoline, which we covered earlier this fall, and is also worth a hard (boiled) look.
Musahaleen, Jason Arment
Jason Arment has been a busy guy in 2018; he’s partnered with local author Steven Dunn (Potted Meat, Water & Power) to work a veteran’s-stories program for Colorado Humanities that resulted in the book Still Coming Home, which might have made this list had we not already praised it in several previous lit-lists. Arment has been published widely in short form, but now he’s out with his first full-length book, a memoir of his time serving in Iraq as a machine gunner for the USMC (the title of the book is the Arabic word for “gunslinger”). Musahaleen is a startling, stark and boots-on-the-ground telling of what it was like to invade another country, on their soil, and bear witness to every moment. It’s not just a good book; it’s an important one.
Remind Me Again What Happened, Joanna Luloff
We interviewed Luloff earlier this year about her multi-perspective novel focusing on the intricacies of memory, and the challenge of writing about something so slippery as what we remember and what we don’t. Important stuff, for sure, but you don't want to miss how inventive and smooth Luloff’s prose style is. This is a book that goes down as bracing and as deep as a good Scotch — an experience you may not completely remember, but you’ll want to. Full disclosure: I work with Jo at CU Denver’s Creative Writing program, but my recommendation to read her book isn’t just about collegiality. I’m a fan.
Awayland, Ramona Ausubel
Ramona Ausubel is a relatively new Colorado resident, but the state is lucky to have her grace our literary scene. Her magical realism and always-surprising prose is on full display in her 2018 short-story collection Awayland. Online dating for Greek monsters; mothers who disappear into mist; the thank-yous from mummified animals: These are the denizens of the charming and affecting world that Ausubel brings to readers, and now to Colorado specifically. If you have a friend who joyfully embraces thoughtful weirdness? This is the book you need to give them.
Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir, Adam Cayton-Holland
Maybe you know Adam Cayton-Holland from his TruTV comedy series Those Who Can’t. Or maybe you know his standup, both locally and on late-night television. Or perhaps you remember his work right here at Westword back in the day. However you’re familiar with the guy we dubbed a “Denver Renaissance Man,” you owe it to yourself to read his 2018 memoir, Tragedy Plus Time, which focuses on the loss of his sister to suicide, and all the issues brought to light in its wake: mental health, loss, recovery, and family.
Take Me With You, Andrea Gibson
Nationally recognized Boulder poet Andrea Gibson has had a productive 2018 in terms of sheer output; Gibson released a full-sized collection of poetry (Lord of the Butterflies, the launch of which we covered in November), as well as an album (Hey Galaxy, a social-justice project born of the politically charged era of Trump). And earlier in the year came this little gem of a book, Take Me With You, which is a pocket-sized edition of some of Gibson’s best lines about “love, gender, politics, sexuality, family, and forgiveness,” with Gibson’s characteristic and vivid poetry. The perfect size to stuff a stocking.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.