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Local Bibliophiles Share the Books That Shaped Their Lives

In honor of World Book Day on April 23, we asked nine local authors, poets, and bibliophiles about the books that had a profound effect on them.

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April 23 is World Book Day—an annual celebration that promotes reading, publishing, and copyright—so we asked some of our favorite Front Range authors, poets, and bibliophiles to share a book that shaped them in some way, whether it offered them a new perspective on even changed their way of life. Here’s what they had to say:

Erika Krouse, author of Contenders

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As a teenager, I found a discarded copy of The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. It was her first book—a raw, rough thing, full of feminist dissociation. In it, the female protagonist becomes engaged to a chauvinist and begins to identify with her food. She can no longer eat, as she feels her own identity devoured by those around her. I read the book once, and then immediately reread it again and again. Here was a writer expressing the same social frustrations I felt, through fiction, in such an undeniably female voice.

Len Vlahos, author and co-owner of Tattered Cover

When our son Charlie was a baby, I read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss so many times, I committed the entire story to memory. It had an impact on me in two important ways. First, the story, which is about progress without regard to the impact on the planet, reaffirmed and solidified my personal commitment to environmentalism (I mean, c’mon, the poor Brown Barbaloots!). Second, it is a master class in meter and lyricism. You can learn almost as much from Dr. Seuss as you can from Shakespeare about how words work and sound together.

Joyce Meskis, former owner of Tattered Cover

Of all the books on my list, perhaps it’s John Milton’s Areopagitica that has most influenced me. Printed in 1644, it was written in response to a British government act the previous year demanding all books be licensed by government censors before publication. Although a challenge to today’s reader, who is neither fluent in the history of Oliver Cromwell’s England nor the composition of its language, there is a fine reward to be gained from reading one of Milton’s most accessible prose works—a thought-provoking and comprehensive rendering of the many arguments in favor of freedom and liberty, which are as useful today as they were 373 years ago.

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Courtney Morgan, author of The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman

The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch is a story of all the things we’re not supposed to talk about, especially as women: sexual abuse, motherhood, stillbirth, grief, reclamation of sexuality, taking ownership of your own story. And so much water. But more than the themes, it’s the way they’re told, with raw, visceral power and bone-scraping honesty. Reading it was a revelation—writing can sound like this, look like this, be structured like this. It felt like a giant gasp of permission. You can write that thing that’s been swimming through you for maybe your whole life. And you can tell it this way, the way it feels.

Mario Acevedo, author of the Felix Gomez detective-vampire series

Though raised in the Southwest, I was never a fan of the West as a genre. That changed profoundly when I read S.G. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches. The brutality, the ordeals, the treachery, and the heroism of all sides became suddenly real and tangible. Empire also changed my life in a deeper, more emotional way. In 1985, my father committed suicide. I’ve always liked guns, but my reaction was to get rid of what few I owned. When Gwynne explained how the introduction of the cap-and-ball, black powder revolver not only changed combat in the West but also warfare, I became fascinated with these finicky anachronisms. I bought a modern replica and learned to shoot it. Empire rekindled my appreciation of guns as tools and symbols, and every time I go shooting I reclaim something I lost during the worst day of my life.

BK Loren, author of Animal, Mineral, Radical

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I was reading Kate Braestrup’s Here If You Need Me: A True Story when my flight took off without me. That’s how absorbed I was in Braestrup’s story of her time as the Maine Warden Service Chaplain—the one called to minister last rights to those who have died in the wilderness: lost hikers; a man who went for a late night ice-skating jaunt down a not-so-frozen river; a suicide, and others. But she is also there to celebrate with families when their loved ones are found alive in the woods. The book was written in 2007, but the compassion it embraces is deeply pertinent in 2017. Though Braestrup is a minister, and I’m an atheist, I agree with her fully when she says, “the God I serve and worship with all my body, all my mind, all my soul, and all my spirit is Love. It’s enough. It’s all the God I need.”

John Cotter, author of Under the Small Lights

Ismail Kadare’s The Pyramid locates the incessant misery behind the majesty of Ancient Egyptian landscapes. Pyramids arose to manage a tricky problem even in ancient times: the Pharaoh’s declining popularity. The solution, according to the seers, “was to eliminate prosperity” by throwing the country’s surplus at a mighty project. After reading the book I found myself thinking differently about America’s own pyramids: the Vietnam war that still tortures my father, the Keystone pipeline that tears up native lands, all those missile silos underground, Donald Trump’s “big fat beautiful wall.” I think of how, at the end of his novel, Cheops [an ancient Egyptian pharaoh] begins to fear the pyramid whose construction has broken the spirits of its builders: What good is a tomb unless you use it?

Elizabeth Robinson, poet and author of On Ghosts

I found Joan Acocella’s Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints while I was deep in the heart of a rough decade. Deaths of beloved friends and family members, unemployment, divorce, thefts, flood—I began to feel at every turn it could get no worse, until it did. Acocella’s introduction offers a model; she is studying artists who suffered grave disappointments or, sometimes, just suffered gravely. Her subjects become exemplars, not just because they were gifted artists, but because they lived with courage, resilience, and patience. They persevered. Did this book change my life? Yes, because it encouraged me to simply keep on with my life.

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Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters

I’m not much of a drinker, so I was startled by how intensely Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget affected me. Even though it’s technically a book about blackout drinking, to me it was really a story of all the ways in which we hide ourselves and deny our feelings and how painful and seemingly impossible it is to try to break out of those habits and into truth. I find myself thinking of how we all have our ways of brokenness, and we all have the hope of making our way out.

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