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Books about Los Angeles: Our top city-based reads

Looking for books about Los Angeles for your fall reading list? We tapped a few local bookstores for their best suggestions—and threw in a few of our own.

Photograph: Courtesy Simon & Schuster

LA reading list: The Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald's last and unfinished novel (published posthumously), Tycoon perfectly represents the high Hollywood life of the 1930s. Its main character, film exec Monroe Stahr, is said to be modeled loosely on real life film exec Irving Thalberg, the "boy wonder" of motion pictures.

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Photograph: Courtesy Penguin

LA reading list: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

"While we cannot live in the hardboiled Los Angeles of The Big Sleep (and the other Philip Marlowe novels), we can visit that now distant LA through Chandler's words."—The Last Bookstore

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Bukowski, one of contemporary literature's most infamous perverts, alcoholics and ne'er-do-wells, has always painted Los Angeles as a dirty, rotten city with a sweet streak of hope. He gathered his research for Post Office at the Los Angeles Terminal Annex on North Alameda Street downtown, which was the central mail processing facility for LA from 1940 to 1989.

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Photograph: Courtesy Penguin

LA reading list: The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

West's savage novel illustrates a darker side of the Hollywood dream during the Great Depression, and is widely considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century.

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Photograph: Courtesy Joan Didion

LA reading list: Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

"Los Angeles will never look quite the same after you have seen it through [protagonist] Maria Wyeth's cool and sorrowful eyes. A 20th-century classic."—Small World Books

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Oil! by Upton Sinclair

Sinclair's writing often blurs the line between fiction and muckraking (case in point, The Jungle exposed such a rotten underbelly of the meatpacking industry in Chicago at the turn of the century, it was one of the deciding factors in the passage of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906). Oil! is no different; it's written in the context of the Harding administration's Teapot Dome Scandal, which took place up in Kern County. It's a wonderful social and political satire, and no, you don't get to cross it off your list for seeing There Will Be Blood.

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

James Frey lied to Oprah. He also wrote an amazing book of vignettes about life in LA, including one awesome homage to the city's freeways which makes perfect, poetic sense to Angelenos (and no sense at all to everyone else).

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

Boyle, winner of the PEN/Faulkner award and Professor of English at USC, chose Topanga Canyon as the setting for this tragicomedy of errors about the colliding worlds of two very different couples.

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Photograph: Courtesy Harper Collins

LA reading list: Ask the Dust by John Fante

"We're haunted by the unforgiving hardness of the Downtown LA streets, the longing beauty, the poetic simplicity of the words, the images. We have a quote from the book painted on the floor of our store: 'Los Angeles give me some of you. Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town, I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.'"—Skylight Books

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Photograph: Courtesy John Buntin

LA reading list: LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City by John Buntin

Buntin tells the story of two men—notorious gangster Mickey Cohen and one of LA's most famous police chiefs, William H. Parker—duking it out for control of a Los Angeles filled with crooked cops, corrupt politicians, gangsters and girls girls girls. Books don't often have taglines, but this one is pretty good: Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends.

 Buy LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City on Amazon
 Download LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City for your Kindle device

Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis

Less Than Zero was Ellis' first novel, published when he was 21 and still in school. Set in Los Angeles in the early '80s, the zeitgeist novel portrays a lost generation who've experienced sex, drugs, power and disaffection at too early an age, leaving them wholly passive and devoid of emotion or hope. Pretty heavy (and well-done) stuff for a college kid.

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar

"This journey from the glittering houses on the hills to the immigrant neighborhoods is a page-turning portrait of contemporary Los Angeles."—Small World Books

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Photograph: Courtesy Hachette Book Group

LA reading list: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

This beautiful, powerful novel tells of a mother in prison and a daughter who must persevere through a series of Los Angeles foster homes. Fitch, a third-generation LA native, is incredibly active in the city's literary community and is a faculty member in the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC.

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

This terrifying cult classic—complete with colored and backwards words, vertical footnotes and multiple appendices—has had Danielewski compared to a mix of Stephen King, Vladimir Nabakov and David Foster Wallace (from whom he takes an obvious amount of influence). Don't read it in sight of a long hallway.

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Photograph: Courtesy Fantagraphics

LA reading list: Love & Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez

"Arguably the best comics series ever, and it happens to take place in and around Los Angeles."—Secret Headquarters

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Photograph: Courtesy Charles Fleming

LA reading list: Secret Stairs by Charles Fleming

Fleming introduced the secret stairs of Los Angeles to the city's masses, which makes him a hero to some and a spot-blowing loudmouth to others. Regardless of which camp you fall in, his hand-drawn maps, detailed instructions and in-depth research make this book a must for anyone interested in exploring this forgotten bit of LA archictecture (yes, even those of you who've known about the stairs for decades).

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley

Huxley's pessimism about the human race is a little overwhelming: If you've recently read Brave New World, give yourself a break before diving into Ape and Essence. Do read it though: Huxley's dystopian, not-so-distant future Los Angeles—in which large-scale warfare and mutually assured destruction has essentially reduced humans to suicidal apes—is a lot more engrossing than it sounds.

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Photograph: Courtesy Amazon

LA reading list: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis

"We've read over a hundred books having to do with our extraordinary surroundings. This is one that's given us the most insight and new knowledge."—Diesel

 Buy City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles on Amazon

Fall is here, and even (especially) if you aren't headed back to school, now's the time to curl up with and dig into a good book. And what better subject than our fair city? We racked our brains—and those of some local, independent booksellers—to come up with a must-read list of books about Los Angeles, from new fiction to modern classics and some history tomes to round out the bunch.


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The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is the largest book festival in the country. Independent bookstore offering recommendations, a calendar of events and book groups.

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