Attributed to the ample natural sunlight, the constant fear of earthquakes or the Santa Ana winds, but living in Los Angeles does something to you. For instance, if you have read John Fante’s Ask The Dust, you can’t not be reminded of it when the sun is baking downtown. Like all literary gems, those based on LA also paint quite the picture. LA is portrayed as a brutal playground, with its controversial character that is constantly balancing on a tight rope.
Here are 10 books we believe shed light on all of Los Angeles’ grit and glory. Some can be considered classics, while others capture the elusive shades of the city that’s too tough to forget.
Take a trip around Los Angeles in A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Many refer to this novel as the first and best novel of the gay liberation movement. A Single Man follows a British professor in mid-century L.A., throughout his day.
Readers witness him coping with the death of his longitme partner. And watch him yearning for a sense of belonging that his neighbors and his students all seem to enjoy. The protagonist is an outsider is everyway you can think of. But more than that, he’s determined to persist in the routines of his daily life. Boot Jacket calls this one, “Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the true textures of life itself.” This is one of those books about L.A. that keep the reader’s attention from page one to the back cover.
Catch this one if: you call yourself a classic American realism buff and if you find yourself yearning for an L.A. that isn’t just all 24-Karat waterslides.
Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham
Four Ecologies is British architectural historian Reyner Banham’s rather optimistic investigation of the city. It’ll take you to the Los Angeles beach, the freeways, the flatlands and the foothills. Published in 1071, this is one of those books about L.A, which is just that. A book that captures all about L.A., in quite literal terms. He refers to the freeway system as “one of the greater works of Man” and in addition to the nitty-gritty architectural analysis, Banham digs into L.A.’s contextual history as well as its formation over the years and the changes it took on.
Catch this one if: you call yourself an architectural junkie with a flair for literature and a fascination for Los Angeles.
Enter the fascinating world of Bukowski in his book Women
Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, slumps around Hollywood in this one. He goes about womanizing and being grumpy and poignant. This is one of those books about L.A. that captures the city through the eyes of one man, quite crisply. We all know what we’re getting into with Bukowski. This book is heavy, but it’s also an equally great portrait of sleazy, golden, wonderful L.A.
Catch this one if: you’re up for an open-minded read, this one’s a book about L.A. made for prose-loving with refined cognitive dissonance.
The White Boy Shuffle, a mesmerising book about L.A. by Paul Beatty
Think of all the great ingredients that make a hit crime movie. Now imagine them coming together. That’s essentially what Ellroy’s classic book about L.A. is.
It’s cops and the tale of corruption chronicling seedy old Hollywood. This one’s blunt, and “hard-boiled” but also sprawling and unpredictable. It brings together the visuals of gritty L.A. in the most succinct manner.
Catch this one if: you appreciate poetry and identity politics intrigue you.
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
The readers are introduced to a shade of El Monte, California that is grounded in reality but also thoroughly enchanted. This novel might complicate your understanding of metaphors: Merced de Papel is a woman made of paper, and the primary plot revolves around the rebellion of a gang of carnation pickers against the planet Saturn. In this book’s multi-level narration, we realize that sometimes the clearest vehicles for truth are the fantastic and the absurd.
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