Books are some of the best gifts you can give over the holidays, and not just because they make you, the giver, look smart (though that’s clearly a plus). They also carry meaning: You don’t give someone any old book — you choose it for them specifically, because of their interests or because you and the recipient share some interest. Or, you know, location. With that (and Alan Prendergast's earlier list) in mind, here are ten great literary choices for Colorado gift-giving this year. From the poetic to the prosaic, from fiction to non-, from the comic to works of sincere depth…they’re all books on the Mile High scale of sublime.
1. The Rise and Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic, Christopher Merkner
In these stories, one of which (“Cabins”) was recently awarded an O. Henry Prize, the American Midwest is painted as the darkly comic, intellectually complex, acerbically uneasy place that those of us from there know it to be. Merkner, who teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, fills his landscapes with voices that constantly surprise and never fail to fascinate.
2. East of Denver, Gregory Hill
This Colorado Book Award-winning novel follows the Eastern Plains adventures of one Shakespeare Williams as he returns home after being away for too long — long enough that his father is failing, and so is the family farm. It’s a coming-home story with heart and humor — both occasionally dark and ultimately satisfying. Author Gregory Hill is a Denver resident; given this book’s title and setting, it makes for a pure Colorado reading experience.
3. The Alvarez Journal, Rex Burns
Rex Burns, a longtime Colorado mystery writer, has several series running, including the one featuring Gabe Wager, which began with this notable 1975 book, a winner of the coveted Edgar Award. Set in Denver, the books explore the seedier side of the Mile High City, and locals will enjoy not only recognizing the setting details, but also following Gabe, a Denver police detective, through a pre-legalized marijuana smuggling scheme.
4. A Whaler’s Dictionary, Dan Beachy-Quick
You don’t have to be a Moby-Dick fan to appreciate this collection from Colorado State University professor Dan Beachy-Quick — but it helps. Still, there’s something deliciously engrossing about this paean to the Melville classic, with side trips into myth and archetype and poetics. If you have a literature lover on your gift list, especially one with a penchant for the vast blue territories of the sea, Beachy-Quick’s book will find a special place on their bookshelf.
5. Who Are You People?, Shari Caudron
Denver writer Shari Caudron examines the funny and deeply weird worlds of American subcultures, from Barbie doll fans to storm chasers to Andy Griffith Show aficionados and more. This nonfiction book is tender and insightful, with surprising revelations. Caudron admits that she started writing as a cynic but emerged from the experience a believer — if not in the passions she encountered, at least in the value of those passions. Readers will take the same trip, and enjoy every step.
Keep reading for more great gift books by Colorado authors.
6. The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, Mario Acevedo
If the title of this book doesn’t make Denverites put it on their Amazon wish list, then they should reconsider their residency. The first book in the Felix Gomez series, this 2005 novel is currently only available on Kindle, as are all but the last of its also awesomely named sequels (X-Rated Bloodsuckers, The Undead Kama Sutra, Jailbait Zombie, Werewolf Smackdown and Rescue From Planet Pleasure), but they’re worth downloading and enjoying for every guilty-pleasure moment.
7. The Reconstructionist, Nick Arvin
Nick Arvin’s first novel, Articles of War, won the Colorado Book Award for fiction in 2006; this sophomore effort is in some ways even more impressive, as it focuses on the minutiae of tragedy, specifically automobile accidents. As a metaphor for the lives of the characters in the novel, sudden impacts and the way we deal with them come at readers with breakneck speed and a willingness to examine every cause and effect.
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8. The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics, John Hickenlooper and Maximillian Potter
Okay, so our governor isn’t a writer by trade, but co-author Maximillian Potter is (Potter's 2014 book, Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine, was named by the New York Times as Best Wine Book of 2014). The combination of Potter’s writing chops and Hick’s natural storytelling creates a winning narrative focused on the unemployed geologist turned brewpub magnate and finally national political figure. A frank and funny look at Colorado’s head honcho, John Hickenlooper.
9. Abide, Jake Adam York
Jake Adam York, CU Denver professor and poet, focused much of his writing on the civil-rights movement: those people both affected by it and whose often tragic stories helped to bring it about. This book, published posthumously, won the 2015 Colorado Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle that same year. Abide weaves jazz in with some of the horrors of history, wrapping it all in bittersweet beauty that stirs and reveals and shines.
10. Where You Once Belonged, Kent Haruf
Late Colorado author Kent Haruf’s seminal work was Plainsong, and much of his ensuing work likewise took place in the fictitious Eastern Plains town of Holt. This book, from 2000, was originally his followup to Plainsong, even though Haruf would go on to write more direct sequels (Eventide and Benediction), and it’s an overlooked gem in his canon. Haruf’s books aren’t just about Colorado, but about America and life in general; you might read them for the familiar landscape, but you’ll remember them for their heart.