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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

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Bright Shiny Morning: A Novel

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Author's Note

Top Ten LA Books:

In compiling this list I decided to include twelve books, instead of ten, because I thought each of these books deserved a spot on the list. I also decided not to include multiple books by any writer because I thought each of these writers deserved a spot. LA's literary culture has always been underrated. These all are great books by amazing writers.

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
The first of the Phillip Marlowe novels by LA's greatest and most influential writer. There's a mansion, a half-crazy paraplegic General, a blackmailer, the General's nymphomaniac daughter, a missing husband. There's murder, mayhem, drugs, and a couple awesome plot twists. Beyond that, there's great great writing. I love all of the Marlowe books (there are seven Marlowe novels). The Big Sleep is my favorite.

Bruce Wagner, I'll Let You Go
Wagner is famous for his Cellphone Trilogy, three satirical novels that detail the banalities and absurdities of Hollywood. While I enjoyed all of those books, I think I'll Let You Go, is Wagner's masterpiece. It's the story of the thirteen year-old Toulose Trotter, part of the massively wealthy Trotter family, who live on a gigantic estate in Bel Air, and his father, who lost his mind and disappeared before Toulouse was born and now lives on an underpass in downtown LA. It's written like a Victorian novel, and it's ridiculous, sublime, and heartbreaking.

Charles Bukowski, Post Office
I fucking love Charles Bukowski. Post Office is my favorite of his autobiographical novels, starring his drunken profane frustrated dirt-poor genius Henry Chinaski. Chinaski works as postman. He fucking hates it. He writes in his spare time, chases women, gets drunk, gets in fights. He quits to try and make a living gambling at the track. He can't do it, so he goes back to the post office to work as sorter. He fucking hates it. He writes in his spare time, chases women, gets drunk, gets in fights. It's a great fucking book.

John Fante, Ask the Dust
Published in 1939, the most famous and most influential of Fante's Bandini books. The semi-autobiographical story of young Arturo Bandini, who moves to LA from Colorado to become a writer. He lives in flophouse, falls in love with a young Mexican waitress, who ignores him unless he insults her, thinks he's a genius, thinks he's an idiot, he dreams, fails, keeps dreaming, keeps trying. Bukowski called Fante his God. Anyone who loves LA, or has ever wanted to be a writer, or just loves great books, will dig this one.

Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero
Ellis is my God, or at least one of them. He has never been given his due, and I believe in 50 years he'll be considered the greatest writer of his generation. He wrote Less Than Zero when he was nineteen, it was published to great acclaim when he twenty-one. Tells the story of Clay, home from winter break from college, his ex/current girlfriend Blair, his best friend Julian. They drink drug and fuck their way across the city. It's a book about money, privilege, loss, friendship, love, lack of love, whether any of it, or anything, matters. As is the case with all Ellis' books, it's a relevant today as the day it was written, maybe more. I could hardly tie my fucking shoes when I was twenty-one, it's astonishing that Ellis wrote a masterpiece, one of the great books of the eighties.

Kem Nunn, Tapping the Source
The first, and maybe only, truly great surfing novel. Have heard the corny Swayze/ Keanu Reeves movie Point Break is loosely (very fucking loosely) based on it, but can't confirm. Also set in Huntington Beach, which is just south of LA, and not actually part of it. That aside, it's an awesome book. Young hardscrabble kind named Ike, who grew up and lives in the desert, leaves hoe to find his sister, who disappeared from Huntington Beach. Falls in with a biker, a group of unpleasant locals who control the area's waves, parties, falls in love. Searches for sister, and while he never finds her, he does find out what happened to her. A loyal movie version would be amazing. The book is amazing.

Mike Davis, City of Quartz
Originally written as a PhD dissertation. Is a breakdown of the city, its development, its economics, its culture. Davis writes beautifully, poetically. As a writer, his skill and virtuosity are intimidating. [City of Quartz] examines what the future may hold by looking at the past. The prognosis is grim. In my opinion, the best book ever written about LA as a city, regardless of genre.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon
Fitzgerald's unfinished Hollywood novel. Was living in LA and working on this book when he died of a heart attack at age 44. Its intended title was The Love of the Last Tycoon. Not sure why it was published with an altered title. Loosely based on the life of Irving Thalberg, who became resident of Universal Studios at age 21. Tells the story of Monroe Stahr. Much of the narrative centers on the day-to-day workings of the film business. That which doesn't focuses on Stahr's relationship with two women, who wants to marry him, another whom he wants to marry, but is with someone else. What exists of the book is great, some people believe it would have been as good or better than Gatsby if it had ever been finished.

Nathanael West, Day of the Locust
The classic Los Angeles novel. Set in Hollywood in the 30's. Might as well be set today. About a group of people who came to the city with big dreams, none of which have come true. They're reduced to scraping, scamming, selling themselves in whatever ways they can to get by, all the while clinging to their fading dreams. It's a sad book, a brutal book, might be considered a comedy if it didn't ring so true. It's about the failure of the American Dream, the mirage of it as it uniquely exists in LA. West died in a car wreck on his way to F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral. Somehow fitting.

Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blonde
Connelly is mega-bestselling mystery writer. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the genre, he's also a great writer. His best books are part of a series about LAPD detective Harry Bosch, a Vietnam vet who kicks ass, breaks rules and solve cases. I've read and truly enjoyed all of the Bosch books. The Concrete Blonde is my favorite. Is about a serial killer called The Dollmaker, who killed women and then made them up to look like children's dolls. Bosch believes he discovered and killed The Dollmaker. The man's widow believes Bosch killed an innocent man, and is suing him and the LAPD. During the trial, The Dollmaker, or a copycat with details only the police and the real killer should know, strikes again. Bosch has to find out what the fuck is going on. He kicks some ass, breaks some rules, it's an awesome read.

James Elroy, My Dark Places
Some people think Elroy is heir to Chandler. They both write about LA, and crime in LA. When looking, however, at each man's work in its entirety, I believe Elroy's to be far more ambitious in scope and range. Chandler transcended the genre and became literature he worked in because he was better at it than everybody else, Elroy never worked specifically in the genre, and was creating literature from day one. My Dark Places isn't the best book he's written, that is probably either American Tabloid or The Cold Six Thousand, but it's my favorite. It's a memoir about the murder of his mother when he was ten years-old, how it profoundly affected his life and his writing, and his attempt, with the help of private investigator, to solve the murder almost 40 years later. It's a rough book, an incredibly revealing book, an amazing book.

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress
Mosley might be more appropriately thought of the as the heir to Chandler. He writes genre work that transcends it. His Easy Rawlins series may ultimately be thought of as comparable to Chandler's Marlowe series, if it isn't already. Devil in a Blue Dress is the first book in the series. Easy is an Army war veteran living in South Central, unemployed after losing his job at an airplane factory. He gets a hired by a wealthy white man to find a missing woman. What follows is classic noir, recontextualized in a different culture and setting, by a great writer. If you dig detective fiction, or hard-boiled PI fiction, you have to read Mosley. He's one of our few living masters.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

chipzip47, March 24, 2010 (view all comments by chipzip47)
I do not hesitate in calling this novel, or whatever it is, a masterpiece. It is briliant, indescribable, page-turning, anxious, and so forceful you feel like you've been slammed by a truck! I have not "checked the facts" but I really don't care because I believe it captures LA and it's energy.

Wow! So powerful and poignant at the same time, the book touched every nerve of my being. I read where the LA Times had trashed it. Whoever the reviewer was, I wouldn't want to have him/her as a dinner guest, because I think my appetite would suffer by evening's end. How one could read this book and not be moved or effected is beyond me, but that's why we have opinions.

I heartily recommend this to anyone who wants to better understand LA and more importantly, our country and why...
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xosheilamarie, June 19, 2008 (view all comments by xosheilamarie)
Despite all the horrible reviews I was just as intrigued with Bright Shiny Morning as I was with A Million Little Pieces. Scandal aside, the novel does a good job at connecting you to the characters so that while it might seem like a mess of stories mixed together, you really just want to keep going to see what is happens next. I absolutely loved it.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780061573132
Author:
Frey, James
Publisher:
HarperTorch
Author:
by James Frey
Author:
by James Frey
Subject:
General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Los angeles (calif.)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
May 13, 2008
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
512
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.53 in 27.04 oz

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Related Subjects


Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Urban Life
History and Social Science » Politics » General
Travel » Travel Writing » General

Bright Shiny Morning: A Novel Used Hardcover
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Product details 512 pages Harper - English 9780061573132 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Signature Review by Sara Nelson When James Frey imploded as a memoirist in 2006, many said his A Million Little Pieces should have been — and perhaps initially was — presented as a novel, and that Frey — a sometimes screenwriter — was, both by nature and design, a fiction writer. Bright Shiny Morning is his first official book of fiction. If it's not quite a novel, less believable in its way than his 'augmented' memoir ever was, there's no doubt it's a work of Frey's imagination. Ironic, isn't it? Set in contemporary Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning is not a cohesive narrative but a compilation of vignettes of several characters (if this were a memoir, we'd call them 'composites') who have come to the city to fulfill their dreams. Some examples: Dylan and Maddie, madly-in-love Midwestern runaways who survive through the kindness of near strangers; Esperanza, a Mexican-American maid tortured by a body that could have been drawn by R. Crumb; a group of drunks and junkies who create a community behind the shacks on Venice Beach; Amberton Parker, a hugely famous married movie star who is secretly — you guessed it — gay. Interspersed with these rotating portraits are random historical and statistical factoids (which better have been fact-checked, even if there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink disclaimer up front: 'Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable') about L.A.: that, for example, 'approximately 2.7 million people live without health insurance' and 'there are more than 12,000 people who describe their job as bill collector in the City of Los Angeles.' Frey's intention, it seems, is to create an onomatopoetic jumble, a cacophony of facts and fiction, stats and stories, that replicate the contradictory nature of the place they describe. I expect, given the sharpness of the knives that some critics have out for Frey, that many will say the book flat out doesn't work. First off, there's that voice, the hyperbolic, breathless, run-on, word-repeating voice that was much better suited to a memoir (or even a novel) in which the hero was a hyperbolic, breathless alcoholic and drug addict. And then there's the frat-boy swagger that angered some readers of AMLP turning up here, too, so faux-cynical as to be nave: the gang father's attaboy about his five-year-old son's desire to be a cold-blooded killer, and the prurient, adolescent take on sex. (And couldn't someone have stopped him from exclaiming 'woohoo' after some of his 'fun' and 'not fun' factoids?) Yet the guy has something: an energy, a drive, a relentlessness, maybe, that can pull readers along, past the voice, past the stock characters, past the cliches. Bright Shiny Morning is a train wreck of a novel, but it's un-put-downable, a real page-turner — in what may come to be known as the Frey tradition." (Sara Nelson is the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly.) Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "The million little pieces guy was called James Frey. He got a second act. He got another chance. Look what he did with it. He stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. No more lying, no more melodrama, still run-on sentences still funny punctuation but so what. He became a furiously good storyteller this time."
"Review" by , "[R]eads like the overreaching first draft of a gifted M.F.A. student. Where was Frey's editor at HarperCollins to guide Frey into pruning the clutter and dramatizing the themes in his fact-based tangents? As it stands, Morning is like L.A. at its worst: undone by ambition, sprawl, and (verbal) smog. (Grade: D+)"
"Review" by , "Bright Shiny Morning reads quickly, has great dialogue and some expertly paced dramatic moments, teaches you more about L.A. than you ever knew, and makes the case (posited by an artist near the end) that Los Angeles is the new New York, on its way to becoming the cultural capital of the world."
"Review" by , "[A] terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read. But you have to give James Frey credit for one thing: He's got chutzpah....Bright Shiny Morning is an execrable novel, a literary train wreck without even the good grace to be entertaining."
"Synopsis" by , The #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers his first novel. In a sweeping narrative that encompasses the history of Los Angeles, Frey focuses on a handful of lost souls, and spins the gripping narrative of their lives.
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