9 New Books About Los Angeles to Make You Fall in Love with the City All Over Again
From gossipy movie-set drama during the making of Chinatown to the magical realist story of a clairvoyant dog who is drawn to Pasadena’s so-called “suicide bridge,” these new tales set in and around L.A. are as unique and varied as our population. Also on the list: a National Book Award finalist novel that reveals the friction between SoCal’s native born and immigrant populations, an addict’s memoir of recovery and a famous designer’s look at her creative process. Who needs to leave the house when there’s so much intrigue in these pages?
1. ‘Your House Will Pay’ by Steph Cha
This book is the critical darling that is as readable and relatable as any you’ll find this year. It starts as Los Angeles is wound up in tension after a police shooting of a black teenager, in a history-repeats-itself setting echoing the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Into this present-day pressure cooker, author Cha tells the story of Korean American Grace Park, a sheltered woman who works long hours at her family’s pharmacy in the Valley. There’s also African American Shawn Matthews, whose sister’s murder when he was 13 has left him with a seething anger that has seen him embrace and then reject the life of a hardworking, law-abiding man. As events unfold, the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.
2. ‘HI FIVE’ BY JOE IDE
Think of a hard-boiled private eye crossed with a social justice warrior. That’s Isaiah Quintabe, known as “I.Q.,” the protagonist of a series of detective novels from author Joe Ide. Ide grew up Los Angeles’s East Adams neighborhood in the ‘60s and his novels carry that lived-in feel. This is the fourth book in the series and has a dynamic cast of characters including a gang reject-turned-dognapper, his girlfriend who is seeking the return of her priceless 19th century violin, a shopkeeper who is wounded in crossfire between Cambodian and white nationalist gangs and a suspected murderess with a multiple personality disorder who runs a Newport Beach atelier. There’s even a book group in here that shares its insights on a Toni Morrison novel. This is a great read for fiction lovers who tend to find detective stories out of touch—this one is contemporary and filled with the levity and gravity of life in Los Angeles today.
3. ‘The Night Fire’ by Michael Connelly
Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch is investigating the decades-old cold case that’s outlined in the file (or “murder book” in police parlance) found among his recently deceased mentor’s possessions. He takes it to his new co-investigator, Detective Renée Ballard—a recent addition to the Harry Bosch series—because he’s recovering from knee surgery and needs help with legwork. But the more Ballard looks into the case, the more it seems like Bosch’s deceased detective might have been trying to cover up the truth. Bonus: The audiobook features the voice of Titus Welliver, the actor whose sexy and salty Harry Bosch portrayal keeps audiences tuning in to the series on Amazon Prime Video.
4. ‘The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood’ by Sam Wasson
The rare book that manages to make deep reportage on a single subject stand in for a historical moment, this is the nonfiction account of the making of the 1974 film that won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Author Wasson acts as a social historian as he shows how this film was the final achievement of a Hollywood system that prized artistic achievement before corporate entities and committee decisions took over. There’s plenty of gossip in here that will keep you turning the page, including how producer Robert Evans showed up for the first day of shooting on a stretcher and how director Roman Polanski was so nervous he threw up. Oh, and Faye Dunaway was a temperamental handful on set. An ideal read for fans of the film or just those who are fascinated by Hollywood history.
5. ‘The Other Americans’ by LAILA LALAMI
The prestige read that manages to be a riveting yarn, this National Book Award finalist tells the story of a Moroccan immigrant who is killed by a speeding car while walking across a desert intersection at night. And so we meet the man’s composer daughter who has come back to the Mojave town she’d left, his widow who is now alone and isolated in America, and the undocumented witness who doesn’t dare come forward with what he saw, lest he be deported. The voices of these and other dispossessed characters (the “other Americans” of the title), such as a war veteran, a detective and the murdered man himself, add up to an engrossing story of race divisions, class and religion in our country today.
6. ‘Arroyo: A Novel’ by Chip Jacobs
This historical novel is the kind of quirky read you’re going to love or loathe, and we’re inclined to the former. The story of two eras—1913 and 1983—in the life of Pasadena’s Colorado Street Bridge, the so-called “suicide bridge” that collapsed and killed people while it was being built in 1912 and then upon opening became the site of dozens of people leaping to their death. (You may remember the concrete arches from a dance sequence in La La Land or as a jumping-off point in Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” video.) Author Jacobs uses this bridge as the backdrop to tell the story of inventor Nick Chance and his clairvoyant dog (!) as they have run-ins with historical luminaries such as Teddy Roosevelt and Upton Sinclair, and visit area landmarks including the Cawston Ostrich Farm and the offbeat Doo Dah Parade. Creative, weird and totally gripping.
7. ‘THE CITY BENEATH: A CENTURY OF LOS ANGELES GRAFFITI’ BY SUSAN A. PHILLIPS
The alternative history of L.A. you didn’t know you needed, this scholarly read is what its author, Susan A. Phillips, calls “semiotic triage.” As she excavates graffiti as outsider art, you’ll get a look into a communication form that is fast disappearing from our increasingly remade and manicured city. From the scrawls of hobos (“bad guys in bowlers”) in the 1910s who came for the mild weather to the bold graphics of later-era surfers, cholos and punks, the author uses her own and archival imagery taken in storm drain tunnels, on neighborhood walls and under bridges to tell a (sometimes literally) underground, previously ignored story of Los Angeles.
8. ‘APOLOGY TO THE YOUNG ADDICT: A MEMOIR’ BY JAMES BROWN
Let’s call this Lake Arrowhead writer the SoCal bard of alcoholism recovery: This is the third in his trilogy of addiction memoirs, which include The Los Angeles Diaries and The River. While decades away from using drugs himself, Brown recognizes the addiction in people around him and also acknowledges the sheer resilience that it takes for him as a husband, father and skeptic to get through the day, while making peace with the family of origin that created him. From the story of an 80-something couple of opioid addicts to a close call with the Las Vegas mass shooting and the loss of his trusted sponsor, Brown’s story is one of relatable hope in all circumstances.
9. ‘EVOCATIVE STYLE’ BY KELLY WEARSTLER
Just want to escape into beautiful interiors? This coffee table book, the first in ten years from Beverly Hills interior designer Wearstler, is a transporting look into her bold and distinctive style. Customized looks for wealthy homeowners and public spaces such as the San Francisco Proper hotel are included, and there are some glimpses into how the decorator works, such as by creating inspiration trays with bits of fabric and hardware that will be put together in the room. While you probably won’t be commissioning a giant bronze door handle for your own home, after flipping through these pages you’ll be more likely to have the courage to paint a bright accent wall or hang an oversized distressed mirror as a focal point.