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The Ten Best Books Set in Colorado

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This summer has been too damn hot to do much of anything outside. That makes it the perfect time to stay inside, pour yourself a lemonade (maybe with some coconut rum), curl up by the air-conditioner (if you have one) and read a book. To make your session seem more place-appropriate, choose from this list of ten great reads set right here in Colorado. It’s like going for a hike in the mountains, only more…comfortable.

10. The Quick and the Dead, by Louis L’Amour
Many of Louis L’Amour’s workmanlike and entertaining novels are set in our state (Treasure Mountain, parts of the Sackett series, etc.). But that's no surprise, as L’Amour was a Durango resident for much of his writing life. This one is knock-down, scuffle-in-the-dust, gunslingin’ fun and more than earns its spot on a Colorado-lit list.

9. Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
This epic novel has been a love/hate legend in sci-fi circles for decades now. If you can put aside Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard’s failings overall and devotee John Travolta’s terrible movie from the turn of the millennium (which was set here, but not filmed here), you can enjoy this book for what it is: futuristic sci-fi fiction set, at least in part, in the Colorado Springs area. Makes total sense.

8. The Ringer, by Jenny Shank
This novel from 2011 is something of a love song to Denver itself, featuring family drama, police-department scandals, and dads coaching their kids’ teams…badly. So pretty much every Saturday in Highlands Ranch? No, more entertaining than that.

7. Kings of Colorado, by David E. Hilton
Violence takes center stage in this vibrant tale set at a boys' ranch — really a juvenile reformatory penitentiary — in the Colorado mountains of the 1960s. Evocative and harsh in both detail and tone, the book is a coming-of-age story with a hardscrabble edge: the uncommonly steep climb out of adolescence.

6. Orange Mint and Honey, by Carleen Brice
Carleen Brice’s love song to Denver is mothers and daughters, responsibility and running away, used vinyl and alcohol, and the ghost of blues great Nina Simone. If that’s not enough to make you want to pick up this story of a twenty-something African-American former grad student trying to make a new life in her old home town, then maybe the Lifetime movie based upon it will strike your fancy.

Keep reading for five more books set in Colorado.

5. Centennial, by James Michener
Yes, this sprawling epic was also made into a cheese-tastic mini-series for 1970s NBC television, but the book is worth reading. James Michener’s classic fictionalizes some of Colorado’s most dramatic history (the Sand Creek Massacre, for example), though it does stray from the facts a bit. Staying inside where it’s cool requires an allowance for poetic license.

4. Cry Father, by Benjamin Whitmer
The gritty underbelly of Denver is as much a character as any of the personalities trudging through the city in Whitmer’s 2015 novel, which is an unforgiving look at fatherhood, violence, escape and loss. In the end, the world Whitmer shows us isn’t something that’s going to be quoted by the Colorado Tourism Office...but it’s a fascinating and necessary darkness that gives the color of Colorado its depth.

3. The Shining, The Stand, Misery, by Stephen King
Much of Uncle Stevie’s work is associated with Maine, but there’s a healthy serving of Colorado horror in the King catalogue, too, owing to his time in residence in Boulder some forty years ago. Several of his best books are set in our neck of Stephen King’s haunted woods, most notably The Stand (Boulder), The Shining (Estes Park) and Misery (the fictional mountain town of Sidewinder, Colorado). The Stanley, as the inspiration for the cursed Overlook, has embraced the King legacy so much that it's adding the notorious hedge maze from the movie, to match fiction and reality up more directly. Just don't get caught out there in the snow.

2. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The singular novel of the Beat Generation doesn’t take place fully in Denver, but enough of it does that we covered some of Kerouac’s favorite haunts back in 2011. And this seminal work is still worth the read, whether you combed through it as a teenager or never got around to reading it. It’s poetic and uneven and raw and true…and still stuns in its smallest moments.

1. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
The beautiful and harrowing story set in the fictional eastern-plains Colorado town of Holt showcases Colorado in all its glories and all its human frailty. Kent Haruf, who passed away in 2014, captured the spirit of Colorado in this 1999 novel and its sequel, Eventide. It deserves a spot on the living-room bookshelf where you keep the tomes meant to impress…but will also glue you to the couch when you devour it, one chapter after another.

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