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.