Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Los Angeles: Recommended Reading

I consider myself pretty damn lucky for a number of reasons. I have a wonderful family and live in a place where I’d want to move, if I wasn’t already here. Plus, I’m married to the love of my life — one who gives gifts that really hit home. For our recent wedding anniversary, she-who-must-be-obeyed graced me with another. This time with a photographic Taschen book, Los Angeles, Portrait of a City. It’s a marvelous work written by Harvard PhD. and USC Professor Kevin Starr and David L. Ulin, books editor for the L.A. Times, that incorporates some gorgeous history-laden photographs for the City of the Angels.

I’ve been slowly going through it, savoring the images and past found within. Yet, as an addendum, the authors, along with editor Jim Heimann, amassed an intriguing section titled “Selected Los Angeles Viewing/Listening/Reading” in the work. It is its own highlight and worth discussion. I thought I’d call attention to each of these items in separate posts, including the authors thoughts on some of their list entries. For this first one, I’ll showcase their reading collection, one that has what it is to be L.A. firmly in its sights. What are your thoughts regarding this list? And what would you add, if you could?

For those who are interested, here’s their reading breakdown by calendar period:

Portrait of a City’s Recommended Reading

  • Incredible Land, Basil Woon (1933)
  • Los Angeles: A History with Side Shows, Morrow Mayo (1933)
  • Ask the Dust, John Fante (1939) – “A struggling writer laments his attempts at literary success while living in a ramshackle apartment on Bunker Hill. Seeking romance from a Mexican waitress, he is spurned and resigns to his former unfulfilled life.” [famed writer-director Robert Towne adapted this to the screen in 2006]
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (1939) – “A hard boiled classic of detective fiction features detective Philip Marlowe searching for a murderer against a backdrop of extortion, blackmail, sex, and death in the means streets of L.A.” [this one will be the next duo post review]
  • The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West (1939) – “West’s seminal novel about a more sinister Hollywood exposed the flip side of Tinseltown success. Through a series of characters he reveals the desperate and dark world of the movie capital’s fringe element.”
  • Mildred Pierce, James Cain (1941)
  • The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1941)
  • What Makes Sammy Run?, Budd Schulberg (1941)
  • If He Hollers Let Him Go, Chester Himes (1945)
  • Southern California Country: An Island on the Land, Carey McWilliams (1946)
  • The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh (1948)
  • Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley (1948)
  • Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger (1965) – “Hollywood’s glamorous façade is stripped bare in this expose that offers up every scandal, drug addiction, murder, abortion, divorce, and sexual deviation kept hidden from public view.”
  • An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, David Gebhard and Robert Winter (1965, revised 2009)
  • Play It as Its Lays, Joan Didion (1970)
  • Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis (1985) – “An affluent college student returns to LA., discovers his friends have retained their amoral and destructive party lifestyle, and attempts to disengage himself from them and their scene.” [adapted to film in 1987 by Marek Kanievska and Harley Peyton]
  • Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era, Kevin Starr (1985)
  • The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy (1987) – “Based on the unsolved murder in 1947 of Hollywood aspirant Elizabeth Short, Ellroy deftly weaves a tale of cynicism, corruption, and murder in mid-century L.A.”
  • Hollywood, Charles Bukowski (1989) – “In a thinly veiled autobiography, Bukowski writes about his experience in Hollywood adapting a screenplay and producing a film version of his novel Barfly, which revealed his alcoholic, deadbeat, and Bohemian lifestyle.”
  • City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Mike Davis (1990) – “The reality of late-20th Century Los Angeles is given a socialist view and critical examination revealing the city’s condition based on a complex combination of serious problems.”
  • Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, D.J. Waldie (1996)
  • The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, Norman Klein (1997) – “A combination of fact and fiction tells the tale of a city that obliterates and reconstructs itself, displacing layers of history in the process and continually re-creating its own mythology.”
  • L.A. Requiem, Robert Crais (2000) – “Tight prose and believable characters bring detective fiction up to date with multiple plot that weave murder, the LAPD, cronyism, and dark romance strung throughout a lucid Los Angeles landscape.” [still, my favorite Robert Crais novel]
  • The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space, William David Estrada (2008)
  • Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey (2008) – “A series of vignettes uncovers the complex lives of Angelenos both new and old to the city, their relationships, crises, secrets, and interaction in a believable sociological romp.”

Note: The list is an eclectic mix, to be sure. It’s easy to see that the pre- through post-war years of the 30s and 40s had a significant impact in this selection. I still find it hard to believe nothing from the 50s would make it on to their list, though. At least, the 60s (2) and the 70s (1) made it on, barely. No Ross MacDonald on a Los Angeles reading list? Michael Connelly and Robert Crais would take issue. I think they also ignored a genre (sci-fi) and missed a great one in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, though. And by the way, that seminal novel was published in 1954.

Editor’s supplement: might as well add this piece reprise from the old blog from a couple of years back that covers some of my personal book favorites since I’ve done so in the later segments of this short arc.

Images c/o the Taschen site

Next up: Recommended Listening

25 Responses to “Los Angeles: Recommended Reading”

  1. Ronan

    Nice way to look at the history of the City of Angels Michael, a city I know virtually nothing about. Nothing real anyway. Everything I know is gleaned from a thousand snapshots from the movies. Maybe we’ll take a trip out there sometime and visit my favourite L.A. based blogger ;-)

    • le0pard13

      It’s a very interesting book that’s loaded with some extraordinary images and history, many I didn’t know, about this place. Lived here all my life and know so little about it. And you’re more than welcome in this town, my friend. Dinner and drink are on me. Thanks, Ronan.

  2. Dan

    Looks like a really interesting read. Los Angeles is a fascinating place, even more so for a Brit because it is this place so far away that has produced the majority of my favourite films. It therefore takes on this rather mystical, magical quality that sets it apart from anywhere else. I have been lucky enough to spend the day in LA while on holiday in Palm Springs. However, our day trip to the city was far too short – I don’t think I really believed I was there when I visited – it was more like a dream. My favourite moment was walking to the Hollywood sign and looking across the city covered, as it was, in smog. I must plan another visit one day.

    • le0pard13

      Our weather can do that. You would have appreciated this past weekend, Dan. The warm temps, and the winds, would have given you a much better, and clearer, view. You may be aware that there is a large expat Brit community in Santa Monica. If you make it back out here, please look me up. We’ll arrange a movie viewing at one or more of the iconic theaters still around here, my friend. Thanks, Dan.

  3. Arlee Bird

    I’ve lived in the L.A. area for the past 21 years and it’s kind of sad how little of the city I know. Looks like a great book based on that classic cover photo alone. I enjoy the film noir that shows so many city scenes–“Kiss Me Deadly” being a particular favorite. Day of the Locust is the only one of books I’ve read and it’s a great one to included in this list.

    An A to Z Co-Host
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    • le0pard13

      I really recommend it, Lee. As I said earlier, I’ve lived here all my life and things I continue to learn about my hometown still amaze me. Great pair in the film (Kiss Me Deadly) and book (Day of the Locust) you mention. Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend.

  4. Christine McCann

    Happy (belated) Anniversary!

    This looks like a fabulous book for anyone with an interest in or love of L.A! I immediately thought I need to seek that out for a gift. [Now, whether it'll be a gift for me or someone else has yet to be determined. ;) ]

    I know I don’t have to tell you what book I was looking for on their list of books, right? ;) Where’s the Michael Connelly though? I used his books, as well as RC’s, as a kind of travel guide when I was in LA. If it hadn’t been for MC’s books, I probably wouldn’t have gone walkabout and seen some of the wonderful, beautiful and historic downtown sites: Grand Central Market, Angel’s Flight, the Bradbury Bldg, LAPL’s Central Library, and so on. Because so many of my photos dealt with the architecture (seriously, I took LOTS of photos!), I’d be interested in checking out a 2009 revised edition of An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles by David Gebhard and Robert Winter.

    • le0pard13

      Thank you, Christine. I’ll be sure to pass it along to you-know-who. It is, and would make, a great gift.

      I thought it interesting they didn’t include somebody as obvious as Michael Connelly, but they sure made up for it with a seminal Robert Crais novel. SWMBO showed him this book and its addendum at the recent “One City, One Book” Series, In-Conversation w/ Michael Connelly & Robert Crais event (RC got a kick out of it, too). Same day as our anniversary, as well.

      Yes, there are a lot of place to visit in this city, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near to half done ;-).

  5. Eric

    Looks like a cool book, Michael, and a nice list, too. ‘Less Than Zero’ is a good read, and while I haven’t read ‘Hollywood’ specifically, I am a big fan of Bukowski. I wonder if there is a similar book for Chicago (my hometown).

    • le0pard13

      Yes, some really great selections. Many that make similar ‘best of’ lists. I checked, but Taschen doesn’t have one of these for Chicago, yet. New York and L.A., however I’d expect they are working on it. No way you can leave the Windy City and its rich history out of something like this. Let’s keep a look out. Thanks, Eric.

  6. rtm

    Great recommendations, Michael. I’ve been intrigued by ‘The Last Tycoon’ since I saw ‘Beloved Infidel’ as Fitzgerald died before he could finish the book.

    You are a blessed man indeed, but then again sounds like your wife and kids are blessed to have a husband/dad like you, too! :D

    • le0pard13

      You’ve very kind, Ruth. I remember in school we had to read a number of F. Scott Fitzgerald novels. I don’t think we did ‘The Last Tycoon’, though. May need to rectify that. Many thanks.

  7. Claire Packer

    That cover is stunning! What a great present :)

    I’d love to visit Los Angeles one day. It’s still very much the heart of the movie-making business, and the place to go if you want to ‘break’ America. I know that quite a few of our Brit actors have set up home there.

    Hollywood by Charles Bukowski sounds like a very interesting read. I’ll try and find a copy.

    • le0pard13

      Isn’t it a stunner of a cover? Same goes if/when you come to L.A., Claire. Please look my wife and I up.

      Yes, a number of Brit actors have landed here, especially in Santa Monica. Jean Simmons lived there a long time right up till her death in 2010. That Bukowski novel has received a lot of accolades in these parts, and I need to read it. Many thanks, Claire.

  8. Rachel

    I’ve always wanted to read The Black Dahlia… hmmm, idea for us?

    Very cool gift! Happy Anniversary again! Always something to celebrate. Here’s a funny piece of info from a former boss of mine after I said I got more excited about birthdays than anniversaries…

    “What? To get to another birthday all you have to do is survive. You have to work at anniversaries.”

    • le0pard13

      Me, too. Brian De Palma’s 2006 film was the adaptation (never saw it, though). I do know that it’s generally not compared favorably with the source novel by what I’ve heard, though. Speaking about the infamous Elizabeth Short murder case, ever read the John Gregory Dunne novel, ‘True Confessions’? Perhaps another idea for a duo post?

      “What? To get to another birthday all you have to do is survive. You have to work at anniversaries.”

      I have to tell you, you-know-who and I love and agree with that sentiment. Thanks for the well wishes, comment, and for including that quote.

  9. Marianne

    It’s wonderful you know your city. We lived in New York City for two years and explored it as much as we could. So many people would comment how we knew the city better than they did and they’d lived there 10 + years.
    I’m also jealous you live in an eclectic city. I often wish I still did.

    • le0pard13

      Ah, NYC. Great city. We visited three years ago right after the kids were out of school in June. Half-way through the week, my children wanted to know if we could move there.

      Sometimes, I think I know the little corner of L.A. I live in pretty well. Then, I learn new things I hardly knew about it. Many thanks for the generous comment, Marianne.

  10. Jessica

    I adore The Big Sleep by Chandler. I think it’s one of the best LA novels around. The Day of the Locust has always annoyed me because it is so negative about the city. Chandler’s work isn’t all butterflies and rainbows by any means, but unlike West, he at least seems to like the place.

    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Jessica. I’m with you regarding this author and novel. A couple weeks back, I attended the “One City, One Book” series by the Santa Monica Library that showcased this extraordinary writer via author interviews of Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. Both were inspired by Chandler. I’m going to do the audiobook of ‘The Big Sleep’ later this month, read by Elliott Gould (who portrayed Philip Marlowe in the ’73 adaptation of ‘The Long Goodbye’). Thank you very much for reading and offering a great comment.


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