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This 1957 novel was written by a Malibu dad who was inspired by his teenage daughter’s proto-beatnik friends, groovy slang and mastery of surfing. Reissued in 2001, this is considered to be Catcher in the Rye for the sandy set. (And for the record, the book is way more compelling than the Sandra Dee film of the same name.)
The UCLA English professor and Palisades resident’s 1992 novel is sadly out of print. But it’s worth buying a used copy online to get See’s insider’s look at a privileged West Side family whose lives are upended when random violence strikes. And hey, the book is funny, too.
This sprawling chronicle of contemporary L.A., written in Frey’s trademark staccato style, includes disparate threads involving a Mexican-American housekeeper, a couple of young Hollywood hopefuls and a homeless alcoholic existing on the fringes of Venice Beach. Upon the book’s publication in 2008, the controversial author received an entertainingly insulting review from the L.A. Times. But no matter: We love the long stretches of California history interspersed within the narrative.
Subtitled “A Novel in the Form of a Memoir,” this 2009 tome is a thinly veiled account of the author’s three-year stint covering the murder trial of O.J. Simpson for Vanity Fair magazine. Protagonist Gus Bailey--Dunne’s alter ego--is a reporter by day and by night, a gossipy court jester for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty. This story is a snapshot of wealth and power behind Beverly Hills’ wrought-iron mansion gates.
With YA books addressing all manner of harsh subject matter these days (Hunger Games, anyone?), it’s hard to believe that Block’s slight 128-page fable about a twentysomething bleach blonde living together with a couple of gay pals in the time of AIDS caused such a furor when it was published in 1989. This sweet punk-rock fairy-tale is impossible to put down, right from its first-chapter name-checks of the Farmers Market, Canter’s Deli and Oki Dog.
Meet the movie industry’s sleaziest of salesmen, Sammy Glick, unforgettably drawn by Schulberg in this gripping 1941 novel. The author knew all about those ambitious Tinseltown types--he grew up the son of a successful Hollywood producer--so his descriptions of everything from nights out at the Brown Derby to parties at lavish estates ring true.
Originally lambasted as pornography when it was published in 1963, this novel follows its central character, Youngman, as he hustles in New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Fast-paced and poignant, the work uses one man--including his experiences along a stretch of boulevard known for years as a red-light district--as a prism for all the lonely singles in Los Angeles. Plus, Jim Morrison used the title in a Doors song.
Before downtown was a place to get expensive coffee and fine art, it was a working-class hub of flophouses and street cars. Fante’s semi-autobiographical cult novel details the heartrending story of an Italian immigrant’s doomed love for a compelling yet troubled Mexican waitress.
While this ’30s noir classic has become best known for the hit melodrama adaptation that won Joan Crawford an Academy Award, the original novel is much darker and truer. The tale of intra-family greed and violence is set amid the neatly trimmed lawns of midcentury suburbia.
Ah, Silverlake--land of gorgeous water vistas, rugged hillside brush and landmark modernist homes. Author Gadol describes it all lovingly as the backdrop for his story of two architects whose orderly life is destroyed by a liaison with a strange young man they ask into their home.
Detective Easy Rawlins is an out-of-work African-American trying to make ends meet in 1940s Watts when he’s hired to locate a blonde habitué of black jazz clubs. This is a gritty contemporary mystery classic that’s worth reading even if you’ve seen the Denzel movie version.
You’ve worked your way through this summer’s best-seller lists, but there’s still more than a month’s worth of beach reading time left here in the Southland, and you don’t want to waste it with any clunkers. May we suggest a collection of books set throughout our hometown?
From Malibu to South L.A., after reading one of these novels, you might see your neighborhood in a whole new light. Click here for our must-read selections.
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