Close your eyes and chances are you can hear at least some music from Paris, Texas or The Buena Vista Social Club. They're both the work of composer and musician Ry Cooder, one of the world's most accomplished guitarists. Now the Los Angeles native has turned his pitch-perfect ear to local dialogue in the 1940s and '50s in his first book of fiction.

Los Angeles Stories, a collection of loosely connected, noirish tales set downtown, in Venice and Bunker Hill, is written in spare yet evocative prose. It depicts its humble characters in gracefully written passages. That's fitting, since Cooder's 2005 concept album, Chávez Ravine, visited similar territory; in that case, the Mexican-American community that was forcibly removed from its home, ostensibly for public housing but in reality to clear space for today's Dodger Stadium.

We like reading these stories for their Los Angeles history and for Cooder's literary strength, a voice that mixes the grit of Charles Bukowski with the emotional tension of Dan Fante. We're making the book required reading for all visitors looking to see another layer of the city beyond its glitter and sand.

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