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:
- 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