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The best L.A. books? Let's make a list (Part 1)

Los Angeles Times staff writer

As you know all too well, readers, we need guidance. Your guidance.

In this case, it’s your L.A. book picks we need – not just great books but books that will clue a newcomer in to this place, physically and socially, past, present and future.  As part of our ever-growing Southern California Close-Ups project, we’re pulling together a list of volumes that speak volumes about Los Angeles – maybe 50 books, maybe more, fiction and nonfiction.

So here are the beginnings of our list, in no particular order. Please weigh in on what you think we’ve overlooked or overestimated. Is “The Loved One” too full of glib outsider snark, or is that what makes it great? Is “Scruples” just a piece of last generation’s beach-reading trash, or does it catch '80s Beverly Hills in a light that nobody else has?

As you’ll see, we’re biased in favor of first novels and heavily biased against giving any writer more than one slot. In a few minutes, we'll post the beginnings of our nonfiction list.


1. James M. Cain: "Mildred Pierce" (1941) or “Double Indemnity” (1943).

2. James Ellroy: "The Black Dahlia" (1987) or “L.A. Confidential” (1990) or the nonfiction “My Dark Places” (1996).

3. Evelyn Waugh “The Loved One” (1948).

4. Nathanael West: "The Day of the Locust" (1939).

5. Raymond Chandler: “The Big Sleep” (1939) or "Farewell, My Lovely" (1940).

6. Christopher Isherwood: "A Single Man" (1964).

7. Carolyn See: "Golden Days” (1987).

8. Gavin Lambert: "The Slide Area: Scenes of Hollywood Life” (1959).

9. Joan Didion: "Play It As It Lays" (1970) or the nonfiction “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (1968).

10. Chester Himes: "If He Hollers Let Him Go" (1945).

11. John Fante: "Ask the Dust" (1939).

12. Walter Mosley: "Devil in a Blue Dress" (1990).

13. John Rechy: "City of Night" (1963).

14. Budd Schulberg: "What Makes Sammy Run?" (1941).

15. Judith Freeman: "The Chinchilla Farm" (1989).

16. Judith Krantz: “Scruples” (1985).

17. Michael Connelly: "The Black Echo" (1992).

18. Ludwig Bemelmanns: “Dirty Eddie” (1948).

19. John Gregory Dunne: "True Confessions" (1977).

20. T.C. Boyle: "Tortilla Curtain" (1995).

21. Michael Tolkin: "The Player"   (1988).

22. April Smith: "North of Montana" (1994).

23. F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The Last Tycoon" (1940).

24. Horace McCoy: "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1935)

25. Upton Sinclair: “Oil!” (1927).

26. Thomas Pynchon: “The Crying of Lot 49” (1966).

27. Janet Fitch: “White Oleandar” (1999) or “Paint it Black” (2006).

28. Bret Easton Ellis: “Less Than Zero” (1985).

29. Charles Bukowski: “Post Office” (1971).

30. Yxta Maya Murray: "Locas” (1998).

31. Hector Tobar: "The Tattooed Soldier" (1998).

32. Lisa See: “Shanghai Girls” (2009).

33. Gina B. Nahai: "Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith" (1999).

34. Thomas Sanchez: “Zoot-Suit Murders” (1991).

35. Helen Hunt Jackson: “Ramona” (1884).

36. John O’Hara: “Hope of Heaven” (1938).

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