Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

One Book, One Denver finally comes up with decent choices for next tome on the range

The ninth time's the charm. After years of serving up the literary equivalent of a Happy Meal for the One Book, One Denver program, the city finally has three great choices for 2012: Through June 22, you can vote for Denver, Enrique's Journey or The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan's book on the Dust Bowl, which decimated Colorado.

Denver , by local author/bookseller John Dunning, is the first truly Denver-centric novel on the list,The sweeping saga follows the history of this city in the 1920s, when the KKK took hold as a frontier town turned into a city.

Enrique's Journey grew out of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times series by Sonia Nazario, an alumna of Colorado State University whose articles followed a brave Honduran boy traveling to the United States to reach his mother.

Good as both those choices are, my pick is The Worst Hard Time, in which New York Times reporter Egan tells the story of the Dust Bowl. It's an amazing piece of history -- Egan tracked down many survivors -- and a cautionary tale for this very dry summer.

In style and scope, it's also a stunning contrast to past picks, including last year's Oprah-friendly The Art of Racing in the Rain , The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird (a good book whose lack of a Colorado connection was trumped by a link to the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read program), The Thin Man (really?), Articles of War (Nick Arvin may live in Colorado, but his WWII book took us very far afield)...all the way back to the first choice, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River.

The 2012 choices are so strong that we're going to take a brief break from pushing our own favorites -- including Mark Twain's Roughing It, On the Road, Plainsong by Kent Haruf (an actual living Colorado author whose book would have been a much better initial choice than Peace Like a River) and John Fante's Ask the Dust -- and simply reserve hope that whatever change in direction prompted this year's choices continue in future years.

For more information, skip the city's One Book, One Denver site -- which appears to be stuck right now on the announcement of a youth choice, Holes. Instead, go straight to Denver Arts & Venue's interactive site, where you'll be able to vote, too.

And do vote. Finally, our chance to have a tome on the range this city can be proud of...

For more on Colorado's literary history, read Alan Prendergast's profile of author/University of Denver professor John Williams, "Like an Open Book."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun