Top 5 Books About LA

I read the Vice article about “Why Los Angeles is the worst” and wanted to create a rebuttal to what I thought was an unfair attack. Of course, I’m motivated by the fact that I just moved to LA and want to reassure myself that I’ve made the right decision and that “Los Angeles is really the best.”

I’m not overly naive and I’ve read up on my fair share of the dark side of tinseltown, but I still remain optimistic. Why? Well because I guess that’s in my nature.  My friend Tim recently told me, “Nobody reads in LA.” But I like to read and I want to live here.

So, flying in the face of “here are the worst things in LA,” I present, the best books that are pessimistically optimistic. Some may call it disillusionment, but in the land of dreams, you need a healthy dose of the truth to get by.

5. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind

Peter Biskind’s book about the swinging sixties and seventies chronicles the rise of the auteur movement in American cinema and how it gradually gave way to the blockbuster and the corporatization of modern film. The book covers the great modern directors: Coppola, Scorsese, and Spielberg, along with the best actors: De Niro, Pacino, and Warren Beatty.  The book is a history and celebration of the film movement filled with scandal, triumph, and defeat in Hollywood.

4. Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis

The 80s were a time of fast money and over the top extravagance, and Ellis wrote about what it was like to grow up in rich, glamorous LA. The listlessness is described by its narrator, Clay, who comes back to LA from college in New Hampshire. He does lots of drugs at parties with trustafarians, and drinks with movie stars and producers at The Polo Lounge.  At 20 years-old he has it all, but hasn’t earned any of it.  The novel portrays what it is like to grow too fast, too soon, and with too much money while coming of age in Los Angeles.

3. Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger never failed to provoke. His avant-garde films are poetic and visually stimulating, but his dalliances into the occult often alienate. His book on the Golden Age of the film colony that would eventually become Hollywood is the gossip column of its day. Filled with the juicy goings on of Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, Douglas Fairbanks, and Louise Brooks, it’s shocking, titillating, and never dull. You might need to take a shower after this one.

2. Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

The ultimate disillusioned novel about those that come to Los Angeles to make it and realize that “the orange juice doesn’t taste any sweeter and the waves don’t crash any higher.” The book revolves around costume designer and painter, Todd Hackett, who witnesses the desperation of struggling actors and wannabes in Hollywood – including a businessman named Homer Simpson! – and ends in an over the top riot. The pain and desperation is palpable with each turn of the page. It was written during the Depression after all.

1. What Makes Sammy Run, Budd Schulberg

This is the Hollywood rags to riches story. Sammy Glick rises from tenement housing in Lower Manhattan to become a Hollywood executive. He is smart, vicious, and will stop at nothing to succeed. Written by Schulberg, who grew up in the Hollywood system, and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for On The Waterfront, the novel is a no holds barred look at those who succeed in Los Angeles, and at what cost.  The book also contains one of my favorite lines about Hollywood:

“Hollywood may be full of phonies, mediocrities, dictators and good men who have lost their way, but there is something that draws you there that you should not be ashamed of.”

So perk up Vice and Jamie Lee Curtis Taete! The future looks bright and Los Angeles may be bad, but there’s some good in there too.

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