The best books about the squalor and splendor of Los Angeles

Emily Beyda Author Of The Body Double
By Emily Beyda

The Books I Picked & Why

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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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