Bend it like Bruce Lee 

If you've got the spine, look here to shape up your literary form

So ... you want to be a lit-ninja?

Sure, and why not? You've got books, and you've got pajamas. Slinking around in the dark with either of them might be problematic, but the true literary warrior has the skills to do it. And Colorado Springs is target-rich with bookish endeavors.

To begin your training, you must develop a basic appreciation of the Pikes Peak Library District (various locations, ppld.org) and the Manitou Springs Library (701 Manitou Ave., manitousprings.colibraries.org). With groups and books and guided readings, the libraries will deepen your reading and writing repertoire. They also keep lists of local book clubs and writing groups — think of them as directories of literary sensei.

The anonymity of chain stores helps many new warriors over the initial awkwardness of their disciplines. In Colorado Springs, we have a couple Barnes & Noble locations (795 Citadel Drive East; 1565 Briargate Blvd., barnesandnoble.com) that can be great places to meet writers and readers. Both offer calendars of events that include meetings of local book clubs, writers groups, critique groups and signings.

Find your place

Now that you've got the basics, it's time to branch out. Yes, Grasshopper, you're ready for indie bookstores.

Black Cat Books (720 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, manitoubooks.com) puts on author appearances and open mic nights, and has recently added fashion to its impressive lineup: By teaming up with Safron of Manitou, Black Cat enables you to trade in those old PJs for some wearable art. Also, the Cat's liquor license will loosen you up and get you dangerously well-prepared for literary battle.

Back in Colorado Springs, Poor Richard's Bookstore (320 N. Tejon St., poorrichards.biz) also offers that loaded pairing of books and alcohol, thanks to its brotherhood with Rico's Café and Wine Bar. You can also order pizza from Poor Richard's Restaurant.

Like Poor Richard's, Covered Treasures (105 Second St., Monument, coveredtreasures.com) deals in new and used books, and occasionally hosts author signings. The intrepid literary ninja would do well to stop here, especially during the town's summer Art Walks on the third Thursday of each month.

For a good lower-body workout, Hooked on Books (3918 Maizeland Road, 596-1621) enlists a platoon of stepladders that will help you reach the highest-up titles among its awe-inspiring quarter-million-book collection. Feel the burn, but don't forget to pull up a rocking chair and enjoy a cup of coffee while you're there, too.

A Trillion Books is the online entity of the Bargain Book Warehouse (104 W. Cucharras St., trillionbooks.com,) the secret assassin of bookstores. From a nondescript building off Colorado Avenue, BBW fills bins mostly with $2 paperbacks and $4 hardbacks. But the website offerings run the price gamut for rare and out-of-print titles — save a few bucks by clicking the "Local Pick Up" option to avoid shipping fees. The same folks also own $2 Buck Books (5172 N. Academy Blvd., 260-4453), for those seeking north-end deals.

There's nothing fancy at Clausen Books (2131 N. Weber St., clausenbooks.com), but there are gently used books at low prices, stacked floor to ceiling. And you can get your old tomes appraised here. The Bookman (3163 W. Colorado Ave., thebookman.com) is locally famous for donating books to charitable organizations, to say nothing of its wall-to-wall selection.

Finally, if you prefer a more archeological approach, dig into the massive collections at the local Discover Goodwill and Arc thrift stores. Of particular note is the Goodwill store just off North Academy Boulevard, at 1070 Kelly Johnson Blvd.

Refine your skills

Time to specialize.

Virtually all warrior stories include a love interest. You can find yours at Beth Anne's Book Corner (1532 N. Circle Drive, bethannesbookcorner.com). Romance is no joking matter here.

Next on your quest are a couple places to get in touch with the spiritual side. For the Christian warrior, Born Again Used Books (1529 N. Union Blvd., bornagainusedbooks.com) offers titles at a bargain. Celebration! Conscious Living Store (2209 W. Colorado Ave., celebrationstore.com) provides solace and peace for all faiths and beliefs; park yourself here for everything from psychic readings to angel interventions. Agia Sophia (2902 W. Colorado Ave., agiasophiacoffeeshop.com) also deals in religion, history and philosophy, in a homey environment.

Some like their skills illustrated precisely. Heroes & Dragons (5751 N. Academy Blvd., 388-9524) employs a staff that's knowledgeable about gaming and graphic novels. If you've got a Marvel question or some advice about specific role-playing games, this place will hook you up nicely. Ed's Cards & Comics (5857 Palmer Park Blvd., 596-9128) and Escape Velocity (19 E. Bijou St., escapevelocitycomics.com) also hit the mats with popular graphic novel titles and collector cards. And newcomer CK Comics and Collectibles (719 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, tinyurl.com/ckcomics) is scheduled to open April 15 with new and old comics, games, figurines and a reading and 3D television area.

Adventures in Books (606 N. Tejon St., 473-4090) is the place to go for military books, though it has some classics, too. At Books for You (1737 S. Eighth St., booksforyou.us), you can brush up on your birds of prey. And if you just want to do as the masses do, the Book Rack (4335 N. Academy Blvd., thebookrack.com/Colorado Springs), prides itself as the "Hoi Polloi Gallery."

Not to be forgotten are two new stores: A Written World (4743 N. Carefree Circle, written-world.com/store) offers black-and-white movies every Sunday, live bands on Friday nights, and author signings. Back in Manitou, Back to the Books (920 Manitou Ave., backtothebooks.net) opened in mid-March, promising "some of the best works you have never heard of."

Step into the arena

Want to sell your own skills to the highest bidder?

Get guidance from the folks at Pikes Peak Writers (pikespeakwriters.com), or Pikes Peak Romance Writers (pikespeakrwa.org), where you can find critiques, workshops and mentors.

If your discipline leans poetic, the Poet Laureate Project (pikespeakpoetlaureate.org) may well catch your eye with its literature and events posted and discretely placed in many stores, restaurants and office locations around town. Some of the members of "the Project" are also members and alums of Poetry West (poetrywest.org). Its official meeting is at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month, on the Colorado College campus, but true ninjas know to look for what isn't in plain sight.

From haiku readings and open mic nights, to workshops and chapbook signings, the members of Poetry West rain metaphor and verse all over the city. Your best bet is to contact the organization for the inside scoop.

Local critique groups such as the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group (csfwg.org) also help get that manuscript or short story ready to submit to the publishing universe. Venue 515 at the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs allows writers to read their latest stuff aloud with the Writers Reading Series (cswritersreading.blogspot.com). Also, the Pikes Perk coffee shop at 5965 N. Academy Blvd. (522-1432) offers "Intimacy With Words" every few months, as well as regular open mic nights and author signings.

Whether you pick one or two of these, or try them all, literary mastery can be yours in the Pikes Peak region — should you choose to accept the challenge.


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