The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, 1939
Sure it’s one of the best mysteries of all time, but Chandler sings the rhythm of Los Angeles, the smell of “hard wet rain” on cement, the weight of bougainvillea on the portico of a decadent rich man’s house – and it’s a pleasure to read.
The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh, 1947
Who knows California better than a detached Englishman? Novelist Waugh’s dead-on satire of Hollywood dissects how Los Angelenos revere their late pets at the “Happier Hunting Ground.”
Greetings from the Golden State, Leslie Brenner, 2001
Food writer and debut novelist Brenner produces an off-beat Southern California family saga that spans the Kennedy Assassination to the Bush Administration.
Literacy and Longing in LA, Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, 2006
An amusing chic lit take on modern L.A. about a woman who is torn between two men and her love for reading.
Los Angeles: People, Places and the Castle on the Hill, A.M. Homes, 2002
New York-based novelist, short-story writer and memoirest Homes checks into the star-larded Chateau Marmont (where James Belushi overdosed) to get an insider’s, bricks-and-mortar look into L.A. and its celebrity culture.
Where I Was From, Joan Didion, 2004
Didion is the nonfiction poet of California, and her piercing view of the state’s history in light of the 1993 Spur Posse sex scandal scours the state for meaning hidden and latent.
Black Dahlia Avenger: the True Story, Steve Hodel, with a foreword by James Ellroy, 2003
Former detective Hodel traces the blood-trail of the murder of an innocent extra straight back to the doorstep of his kinky doctor father in this true-crime classic about one of the city’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Laurel Canyon, Lisa Cholodenko, 2002
Lisa Cholodenko’s sexy film starring Oscar-winner Frances McDormand peaks into one of the city’s hippest, most hidden neighborhoods, the funky bridge between Hollywood and the Valley, making it and exile.
The Music Box, James Parrot, 1932
Sometimes you just have to see what unspoiled L.A. was like when you could still smell the orange blossoms in the breeze; this slapstick 1932 Laurel and Hardy comedy has the pair as bumbling (of course!) piano movers fighting gravity and a steep staircase. It was shot in front of a Descanso Drive house that you can still search out.
Chinatown, Roman Polanski, 1974
Stolen water is the root of all Los Angeles’s many evils in this darkly entertaining 1974 noir pairing Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.
Volcano, Mick Jackson, 1997
A guilty pleasure, the disaster movie sets Los Angeles aflame, with lava coursing down Wilshire Boulevard from an eruption beneath the La Brea Tar Pits and Tommy Lee Jones trying very hard to rescue the City of the Angels from its own tarry foundation. Tagline? “The coast is toast.”
Beach Blanket Bingo, William Asher, 1965
Nostalgic for a time when bikinis were considered racy? Shake and shimmy with this sandy, sun-tanned Pacific California dream with national treasures Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.