Denver Colorado lies a distant 1,700 miles west of New York City’s elite publishing houses and 1,300 miles east of San Francisco’s beat poet history. Yet somehow Denver has managed to carve out its own place as a literary city. The literary traveler can find plenty of things to do in the many Denver bookstores, libraries, literary sites and watering holes.
Tattered Cover Denver Bookstore
The Tattered Cover Denver Bookstore has been around since 1971. Their flagship store on Colfax is a beautifully restored old theater with a very large and eclectic collection of…well…everything. For example, their large magazine collection include magazines on such diverse topics as “bee culture” and “felting”. Like all great independent bookstores, they devote a large swath of real estate to staff pics and other curated displays designed to give the customer a good recommendation. The displays also give the book lover an excuse to load up on books. They have frequent author events and it’s worth checking out their staircase gallery featuring portraits of the authors. While there, I performed my usual literary misdemeanors and faced out a copy of Super Sad True Love Story as a recommendation to a future customer.
You can dig into your new book while having a coffee at their in-store cafe. Or you can go two doors west on Colfax and have a cool glass of something at the Bar Max. They have their own literary take on things and they will slip your bar bill into a volume of language translations (mine was in a Norwegian phrase book).
Lighthouse Writers Workshop
Another five blocks west of Tattered Cover is the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Their literary mission is to provide a high caliber of artistic education, support and community for writers. They offer an interesting “Friday 500” event whereby you just show up, grab a coffee and bang out 500 words on whatever topic you wish. It’s a fun social way to get yourself past your writer’s block.
Book Bar Bookstore
If you liked the wine at Bar Max, you are going to love the Book Bar. It is both a wine bar and a Denver bookstore all rolled into one perfect little bundle. The store isn’t huge, but they have a very nicely curated selection of fiction and children’s books. And if you are looking for bathroom reading, you can find that bookshelf located right next to the restrooms. They have very comfy chairs and an outdoor deck so it’s not surprising that, according to the barkeep, people stay all day. I didn’t stay all day. But I did stay long enough to create a face-out display for Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, purchase The Interns Handbook and get a glass of wine.
Denver Public Library, Downtown branch
This beautiful urban library was built in 1995 and shares a complex with the Denver Art museum, Clyfford Still museum, the Colorado History Center. On the same block is also a tiny Little Free Library (at the corner of Broadway & 12th) where you can simply take a free book. The Main Branch itself offers a regular rotation of art on several different floors. The library also offers a comfortable place to hang out and dig into a new book. But I didn’t have time for that as I was busy creating displays for The 13-½ Lives of Captain Bluebear and Grandad and There’s a Head on the Beach.
Walk a 2 blocks north and 4 blocks east of the library and you’ll find Capital Hill Books. This used bookstore in Denver has a truly esoteric collection. So if you are looking for tomes on Australian Gardening or Travel Writer’s guides (from 1938), you are in the right place. Used bookstores are usually chaotic but the chaos gives the browser a lot of opportunity to be surprised. I faced-out Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and then realized that I had never read his Parrot & Olivier. So I snapped it up and it now resides on my nightstand. You can settle in with your books at nearby Pablo’s Coffee.
Kerouac in Denver
The big literary surprise for me was just a few block away on Sherman & 13th street at the Jack Kerouac apartments. The apartments aren’t a Denver bookstore nor are they a literary site per se, but the the brick facade of the buildings have been stenciled with lines from the works of Jack Kerouac. “Whither goest thou, America, in thy, shiny car in the night?”, the apartment building asks. Well, I suppose you could head to My Brother’s Bar, where it is said that Kerouac, Neal Cassady and their other beat movement friends used to hang out.
Suggested Reading for Your Visit to Denver Bookstores and Literary Sites
Beyond things to do in Denver, there is also plenty to read from its many authors. Kerouac and his iconic On The Road weren’t the only literary products of Colorado. Here are a few contemporary authors who are from or who have written about Colorado
- Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The touching and fateful story of a mute boy and his three yearling dogs and a family tragedy.
- The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Baciglupi
Explores explores the effects of bioengineering and a world in which fossil fuels are no longer viable and calories are a precious commodity.
- The Alan Gregory Series by Stephen White
A thriller series set in Boulder featuring criminal psychologist Alan Gregory.
- Missoula and Into the Wild by John Krakauer
Krakauer is a master storyteller of narrative non-fiction
- Wind River Reservation series by Margaret Coel
This series and several of her stand alone books feature Native Americans and western landscapes
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
If Kerouac’s beat generation were the hip precursor to the hippie movement, then Thompson’s gonzo journalism style represents the hang-over.
“I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!”…..Jack Keroac from On the Road
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