It’s a must-see stop for presidents, celebrities, writers and book lovers of every stripe. The Tattered Cover, founded by a fierce defender of free expression, literacy, and readers' rights, is one of the nation's most renowned bookstores, and a beloved Colorado tradition.
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – His presidential limo pulled up to the curb outside the 1880s-circa brick building in lower downtown Denver, and the ruddy-faced commander-in-chief dashed in to walk the bookstore's creaky wood planks. Former President Bill Clinton swung by on a whim during a 1990s fundraising trip to stock up on the latest best-sellers, and to soak up the rustic, Western charm of Denver's legendary, independently owned the Tattered Cover.
Other local and national politicians, celebrities, writers, illustrators and book lovers of every stripe have followed suit. Does a greater bookstore exist in the world? If it does, I don't know where it is. It has to be our very own Tattered Cover. Owner Joyce Meskis is considered one of the nation's guiding forces of independent bookselling, and a steadfast advocate for literacy, free expression, and the rights of readers. This year marks the bookstore's 40th anniversary, and so many good memories are flooding out, especially as we write about the contributions of independently owned bookstores across the country.
Founded in 1971, Meskis' bookstore today has three locations: the store in historic Lower Downtown Denver, another in a converted theater on Colfax Avenue, and the third in my suburban neighborhood, some 15 miles south of downtown Denver. All are great places to find the latest titles, hear authors talk about their work, meet with reading clubs, or just sit back and people watch. The bookstore has played host to hundreds of authors, averaging about 400 a year.
Among the literary and other creative luminaries who have graced the Tattered Cover with their wit, charm, elegance and style are Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, J.K.Rowling, Ansel Adams, President Barack Obama, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Erica Jong, Annie Proulx, Amy Tan, Umberto Eco, and Aspen's own Hunter S. Thompson among many others.
Over the years, my family has made pilgrimmages, too.
At the original Cherry Creek store, my children and I sat on the floor to immerse ourselves in pop-ups, masterfully drawn picture books, and Newbery Medal winners. Afterward, we sat in overstuffed chairs sipping from giant cups of café au lait or Earl Grey, and cradling our crisp brown Tattered Cover paper bags. We watched as wide-eyed newbies walked in, stopped and looked around, stunned by the sheer volume of books, magazines, newspapers, brain teasers, greeting cards, journals, posters and other essential accoutrements for readers in the Rocky Mountain West.
When the bookstore expanded to lower downtown, or LoDo, near the Associated Press bureau where I once worked, I trekked with friends and family to hear favorite authors read from their work, and share their thoughts about writing and storytelling.
New York Times writer Rick Bragg signed his heart-breakingly beautiful memoir All Over But the Shoutin' for me, and talked to me about the challenges of daily journalism. Chilean novelist Isabel Allende charmed us with her wit and humor before signing copies of La Hija de la Fortuna. I reminded her that I had interviewed her in her home in Caracas years earlier, and she graciously tried to remember the meeting while signing books for my daughter and me. Another time, legendary rock climber Lynn Hill regaled my husband and me (along with hundreds of other fans) with stories of her exploits on rock faces around the world. Then we lingered to talk to the diminutive but powerful athlete, and asked her to sign her memoir, Free Climbing: My Life in the Verticle World.
Forget e-books. Nothing is more beautiful than a shelf filled with books, especially those signed by favorite authors you've met in your local, independently owned bookstore.
After we moved to the suburbs, the Highlands Ranch branch became our go-to Tattered Cover, where we have spent weekends reading, snacking, and treasuring the worlds of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, or searching the shelves for Colorado history books, biographies for Einstein, Green Day, and The Clash, or the latest New York Times picks. Every Friday, the bookstore hosts a pajama party for families who want to share their passion for books and reading with their children. I can't tell you how many times I've run to Tattered Cover on a week night to buy a copy of The Lightning Thief or some other Riordan book so my son could finish a reading response assignment. (I'm heading out the door now, in fact. It's only a mile from our home, in the Highlands Ranch Town Center).
On weekday nights, we've popped in to hear local authors. Sometimes, if we are really lucky, we will unwittingly stumble upon someone like Charles C. Mann, the author of "1491" and "1493." At one memorable evening reading and slide show, Mann shared revelation after revelation about the history of the Americas, and challenged everything we thought we knew about Columbus, Spanish conquistadores, and the indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for millennia, long before Europeans and others began arriving in droves.
Sure. The nucleus of the publishing world is New York, but the center of the reading world in Denver is the Tattered Cover bookstore. For those of us who reside in the middle of this great land mass we call North America, it is nothing less than our connection to the wide world.