On The Los Angeles Times’s “The Ultimate L.A. Bookshelf: 110 essential Los Angeles books”

In advance of the 2023 L.A. Times Festival of Books, 95 writers compiled a list of essential “Los Angeles Books.” I reckon it’s a good, if not very surprising list — not that the number of surprises has anything to do with a list’s quality. A few author, including Aldous Huxley, Joan Didion, and Raymond Chandler, appear more than once. On the other hand, my man, James M. Cain, misses the list entirely. There are a few books about Los Angeles that you might expect to see on the list that are not. Christopher Rand‘s Los Angeles: The Ultimate City (1967), Neal Gabler‘s An Empire of Their Own (1988), and Vincent Brook’s Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles (2013), are all omitted, as are many others — but there are many more books on the list that I haven’t read and suppose, some day, I’ll compile them all into by Los Angeles bibliography… or not. There are bound to be such absences, though. I started working on a Los Angeles bibliography a couple of years ago and put it on hold because it was too daunting a task. I highlighted the relatively small number of books that I’ve read on the list in bold text. And I own A Guide to Architecture in Southern California by David Gebhard and Robert Winter — but the list-makers have chosen, for whatever reason, to specify the 1965 edition and not the 2018 revised version that I own.

  1. How to Write Photoplays by Anita Loos and John Emerson, 1920
  2. Los Angeles by Morrow Mayo, 1933
  3. Southern California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams, 1946
  4. The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, 1954
  5. A Guide to Architecture in Southern California by David Gebhard and Robert Winter, 1965 edition
  6. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham, 1971
  7. City of Quartz by Mike Davis, 1990
  8. Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s by Kevin Starr, 1990
  9. The History of Forgetting by Norman M. Klein, 1997
  10. The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins by Brenda E. Stevenson, 2013
  11. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, 2015
  12. Sidewalking by David L. Ulin, 2015
  13. City of Inmates by Kelly Lytle Hernández, 2017
  14. A Place at the Nayarit by Natalia Molina, 2022
  15. Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, 1884
  16. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, 1939
  17. Ask the Dust by John Fante, 1939
  18. If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes, 1945
  19. The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert, 1959
  20. City of Night by John Rechy, 1963
  21. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, 1970
  22. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, 1985
  23. Golden Days by Carolyn See, 1986
  24. The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty, 1996
  25. White Oleander by Janet Fitch, 1999
  26. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon, 2009
  27. The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar, 2011
  28. Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson, 2012
  29. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
  30. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 2020
  31. Tarzan at the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1929-1930
  32. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley, 1939
  33. Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore, 1947
  34. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, 1954
  35. Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967
  36. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, 1977
  37. Three Californias (series) by Kim Stanley Robinson, 1984-1990
  38. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, 1993
  39. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, 2000
  40. The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, 2005
  41. Zeroville by Steve Erickson, 2007
  42. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, 2010
  43. Speculative Los Angeles by Denise Hamilton ed., 2021
  44. A Stab in the Dark by Facundo Bernal, 1921
  45. Noon on Alameda Street by Hildegarde Flanner, 1937
  46. Hollywood Elegies by Bertolt Brecht, 1942
  47. Evening in the Park by Henri Coulette, 1959
  48. Letter to an Imaginary Friend by Thomas McGrath, 1962
  49. Love Is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski, 1977
  50. Artemis in Echo Park by Eloise Klein Healy, 1991
  51. City Terrace Field Manual by Sesshu Foster, 1996
  52. Mercurochrome by Wanda Coleman, 2001
  53. The Language of Saxophones by Kamau Daáood, 2005
  54. The River: Books One, Two, and Three by Lewis MacAdams, 2007
  55. Lost in Los (Angeles) by Marisela Norte, 2008
  56. Really Mystic River by Suzanne Lummis, 2016
  57. To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness by Robin Coste Lewis, 2022
  58. “The Jung Generation” from Dramatic Crimes of 1927 by Milton MacKaye, 1928
  59. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, 1939
  60. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, 1947
  61. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, 1953
  62. Black Money by Ross Macdonald, 1966
  63. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry, 1974
  64. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley, 1990
  65. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy, 1990
  66. Southland by Nina Revoyr, 2003
  67. Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara, 2004
  68. All Involved by Ryan Gattis, 2015
  69. Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha, 2019
  70. These Women by Ivy Pochoda, 2020
  71. Lament in the Night by Shoson Nagahara, 1925
  72. The Rise of Minna Nordstrom by P.G. Wodehouse, 1933
  73. The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1940-1941
  74. A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, 1952
  75. Natica Jackson by John O’Hara, 1966
  76. The Moths and Other Stories by Helena María Viramontes, 1985
  77. A Hollywood Education by David Freeman, 1986
  78. City of God by Gil Cuadros, 1994
  79. Every Night Is Ladies’ Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra, 2004
  80. The Golden Gopher by Susan Straight, 2007
  81. The Burglar by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 2016
  82. Eat the Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza, 2021
  83. Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho, 2023
  84. Trousers and Skirts by Alma Whitaker, 1923
  85. Small Town Los Angeles by Willard Motley, 1939
  86. American Me by Beatrice Griffith, 1948
  87. The Pachuco and Other Extremes by Octavio Paz, 1950
  88. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, 1968
  89. Who is a Chicano? by Ruben Salazar, 1970
  90. Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz, 1977
  91. Los Angeles: The Know-How City by Jan Morris, 1980
  92. Holy Land by D.J. Waldie, 1996
  93. Counter Intelligence by Jonathan Gold, 2000
  94. LAtitudes: An Angeleno’s Atlas, edited by Patricia Wakida, 2015
  95. White Sands by Geoff Dyer, 2016
  96. Always Crashing in the Same Car by Matthew Specktor, 2021
  97. Adobe Days by Sarah Bixby Smith, 1925
  98. Laughing in the Jungle by Louis Adamic, 1932
  99. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, 1946
  100. Tallulah by Tallulah Bankhead, 1952
  101. The Kindness of Strangers by Salka Viertel, 1969
  102. Diaries, 1939-1983 (in 3 volumes) by Christopher Isherwood
  103. Adventures in the Screen Trade by Wiliam Goldman, 1983
  104. Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez, 1993
  105. The Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown, 2003
  106. Freeway Rick Ross by Rick Ross and Cathy Scott, 2014
  107. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, 2015
  108. West of Eden by Jean Stein, 2016
  109. After/Image by Lynell George, 2018
  110. Dear Los Angeles, edited by David Kipen, 2018

And so, at the time of writing, I’ve only read seven of the essential books about Los Angeles. How many have you read?

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and the 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject and/or guest in The Los Angeles TimesVICEHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAOffice Hours LiveSpectrum NewsEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m YoursNotebook on Cities and CultureKCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles.

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7 thoughts on “On The Los Angeles Times’s “The Ultimate L.A. Bookshelf: 110 essential Los Angeles books”

  1. I was looking at the Times list this morning. How could they leave off James M. Cain? Thanks for your own list. You include a lot of titles I hadn’t heard of. I do recommend making If He Hollers a high priority. I read it recently, and it knocked me out. A great portrait of LA in the 40s, and still relevant today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If and when you get around to this bibliography, maybe include Richard Kadrey’s “Sandman Slim” series? Much of the action is set in metropolitan Los Angeles. And I think you would love Scott Fitzgerald’s “Pat Hobby Stories.” It’s a book I’ve gone back to again and again. .

    Liked by 1 person

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