The best books about the squalor and splendor of Los Angeles

Emily Beyda Author Of The Body Double
By Emily Beyda

Who am I?

It’s safe to say that I love LA. While my home town is often dismissed as being little more than a string of shopping malls strung together by freeways, to me, it’s a place like nowhere else in the world. In a city fueled by cinema, LA’s outsider magic is hard to capture, but I find it fascinating when novelists make the attempt. With my first novel, The Body Double, I take a surreal deep dive into the mystery and magic of this strange city—inspired, in no small part, by my five favorite books about Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!


I wrote...

The Body Double

By Emily Beyda,

Book cover of The Body Double

What is my book about?

A strange man discovers our nameless narrator selling popcorn at a decrepit small-town movie theater and offers her an odd and lucrative position: she will forget her job, her acquaintances, even her name, and move to Los Angeles, where she will become the body double of the famous and troubled celebrity Rosanna Feld. A nervous breakdown has forced Rosanna out of the public eye, and she needs a look-alike to take her place in the tabloid media circus of Hollywood. But as she makes her public debut as Rosanna, alarming questions begin to arise. What really caused Rosanna's mental collapse? Will she ever return? And is Max truly her ally, or something more sinister?

The books I picked & why

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Eve's Hollywood

By Eve Babitz,

Book cover of Eve's Hollywood

Why this book?

I’m a little biased with this one, because Eve was my neighbor growing up and something of a literary fairy godmother, but there are few writers who capture the spirit of Los Angeles with more fascination and ease. Her work is messy—delightfully so, like eavesdropping on that friend who always has the craziest stories to tell about her exploits, and her prose captures her inimitable personality. She notices things about Los Angeles that will make you fall in love with the city all over again, or book your first visit if you’re from out of town. Perfect for readers who want to feel a sense of intimacy with their books, or people like me who love listening in on gossip, the messier the better. Eve always delivers!

Eve's Hollywood

By Eve Babitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eve's Hollywood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A legendary love letter to Los Angeles by the city's most charming daughter, complete with portraits of rock stars at Chateau Marmont, surfers in Santa Monica, prostitutes on sunset, and Eve's own beloved cat, Rosie. 

Journalist, party girl, bookworm, artist, muse: by the time she’d hit thirty, Eve Babitz had played all of these roles. Immortalized as the nude beauty facing down Duchamp and as one of Ed Ruscha’s Five 1965 Girlfriends, Babitz’s first book showed her to be a razor-sharp writer with tales of her own. Eve’s Hollywood is an album of  vivid snapshots of Southern California’s haute bohemians,…


Play It as It Lays

By Joan Didion,

Book cover of Play It as It Lays

Why this book?

It’s a little bit of a cliche to list St. Joan as your favorite LA writer, but believe me when I tell you she has more than earned her reputation. While she’s better known for her essays, this novel might be my favorite thing she wrote. I think of this book every time I have to make the terrible multi-lane change entering downtown on the 101 freeway, every time I meet an aspiring actor with something seedy in his past, or drink Coca-Cola from a glass bottle. It’s such a dark, twisted space for exploration, and Didion isn’t afraid to get weird. The best book for SoCal cynics, disillusioned dreamers who haven’t made it big, and anyone else who is falling for this city’s seductive charm.

Play It as It Lays

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Play It as It Lays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A profoundly disturbing novel that ruthlessly dissects American life in the late 1960s, from the author of The White Album and The Year of Magical Thinking.

Benny called for a round of Cuba Libres and I gave him some chips to play for me and went to the ladies' room and never came back.

Somewhere out beyond Hollywood, hollowed-out actress Maria Wyeth's life plays out in a numbing routine of perpetual freeway driving. In her early thirties, divorced from her husband, dislocated from friends, anesthetized to pain and please, Wheth is a woman who has run out of both desires…


Weetzie Bat

By Francesca Lia Block,

Book cover of Weetzie Bat

Why this book?

Weetzie Bat was the first book I can remember reading that saw what a special city Los Angeles is. I fell in love with it when I was young for the way she depicts the brilliant mess of this oasis, the rainbow trees blooming, the spluttering florescent lights in depressing Hollywood apartments, the scent of jasmine and gasoline lingering in the air. The plot of this book is a fun romp through the 70s LA punk scene, capturing some amazing glimpses of counter-cultural characters, but in some ways, for me, that’s beside the point. On sensory force alone, Block is undeniable, and I think her prose has had maybe the most dramatic impact on the way I conceive of my own work.

Weetzie Bat

By Francesca Lia Block,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Weetzie Bat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Transcendent.” —New York Times Book Review

“Magnificent.” —Village Voice

“Sparkling.” —Publishers Weekly

Francesca Lia Block’s dazzling debut novel, Weetzie Bat, is not only a genre-shattering, critically acclaimed gem, it's also widely recognized as a classic of young adult literature, having captivated readers for generations.

This coming-of-age novel follows the eponymous Weetzie Bat and her best friend Dirk as they navigate life and love in a timeless, dreamlike version of Los Angeles. When Weetzie is granted three wishes by a genie, she discovers that there are unexpected ramifications….

Winner of the prestigious Phoenix Award, Weetzie Bat is a beautiful, poetic work…


The Lady in the Lake

By Raymond Chandler,

Book cover of The Lady in the Lake

Why this book?

It wouldn’t be an LA book list without Raymond Chandler, but I’m perhaps getting a little controversial by opting for one of his lesser-known titles (and one that’s half set in a fictionalized version of Big Bear, to boot). Let me defend myself. This book deserves a place in the annals of Hollywood noir because it is simply irresistible, as nauseatingly unsettling as the undertow in a quick flowing Angeles National Forest stream. As for the setting, it’s half in LA, and what would this city be without our day trips? Los Angeles is a place that’s so much defined by what’s around it that Chandler’s depictions of endless driving, the longing to find an aperture, a way of life that seems impossible to escape, are timeless. 

The Lady in the Lake

By Raymond Chandler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lady in the Lake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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Through the imagination of some of the world's greatest authors, the English language comes to life in pages of our Readers. Students have the pleasure and satisfaction of reading these stories in English, and at the same time develop a broader vocabulary, greater comprehension and reading…


The Loved One

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of The Loved One

Why this book?

Let’s end on a delightfully weird and silly note, with this pure dark humor confection by Evelyn Waugh. Set in the absurd world of the luxury funeral industry, this book will have you alternating between hilarity and deep, existential horror. A little whiplash-inducing, but Waugh’s command over the smallest subtleties of language and tone is truly a delight to witness. It holds a special place in my heart because I was reading it on one of the first trips I took with my husband—so a pro tip, to really enjoy this text to the fullest, try having someone bring you a strawberry milkshake as you read it in a motel bathtub, although I’m sure it’s equally delightful enjoyed soberly with a cup of tea. 

The Loved One

By Evelyn Waugh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Loved One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

mordant short novel about expat life in Los Angeles


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Los Angeles, Hollywood, and private investigators?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Los Angeles, Hollywood, and private investigators.

Los Angeles Explore 201 books about Los Angeles
Hollywood Explore 108 books about Hollywood
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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