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Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and me

Among the most famous bookstores in the world—alongside Shakespeare & Company (Paris), the Strand (New York), and City Lights (San Francisco)—Denver’s Tattered Cover has a special place.


Its founder / owner Joyce Meskis helped invent the concept of the “big box” bookstore, featuring a vast and varied inventory, an onsite café, welcoming décor and furnishings that invite browsing and reading, and a crowded schedule of author appearances and community events. I’ve spent countless hours luxuriating in the Tattered Cover’s appealing ambience, designed to turn casual readers into dedicated book lovers.


Joyce also became a stalwart hero of the First Amendment, serving as the plaintiff in landmark cases that helped to define and strengthen the rights of booksellers, authors, publishers, and readers to create and share books without fear of government oversight or censorship.


So I was thrilled this past Saturday, May 18, 2024, when I had the chance to speak and autograph books at the Tattered Cover. The occasion was a panel discussion of our new book Why Books Still Matter, a collection of essays about books, bookselling, and freedom of expression that I compiled to honor Joyce Meskis and her legacy. Our panelists included US Senator John Hickenlooper; bookseller and longtime colleague of Joyce, Matt Miller; and First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg. We had a fine crowd of 90 local book lovers, and C-SPAN’s Book TV crew filmed the whole event for later showing on the network.


Perhaps most exciting for me was getting to add my signature to the Tattered Cover’s guest book—the same ritual previously experienced by luminaries ranging from Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and Allen Ginsberg to Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Ansel Adams, and Maya Angelou.


I suppose my name may never appear alongside theirs in any future history of literature. But at least I can claim to be in a granfalloon with them. And if you’re not familiar with the term, a granfalloon is a group of people who might seem to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. It was introduced in the 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut—who, of course, also autographed books at the Tattered Cover. Quite a club!

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