18 L.A. Literary Figures Pick Their Favorite L.A. Novels
For the last nine months, L.A. Weekly has conducted a tournament to determine the best L.A. novel ever -- but we wanted to know what others thought as well. We asked a number of our favorite writers, booksellers, publishers and critics to tell us about their favorite L.A. novel. Here's what they had to say.
Luis J. Rodriguez is the author of 15 books, including the legendary memoir Always Running.
I know, I know; Ask the Dust by John Fante will inevitably show up on any L.A. writer's list of best books. For me, here's why: The book loomed large as I visited in the late 1970s the downtown library, one of my favorite haunts since my days as a homeless, drug-addled teen. The poetry in the lines drew me in but more so the story of this beaten-down, Italian-American writer, lost in the city's caverns of the poor; hateful toward Mexicans yet loving them; full of racist rage, largely due to his own loss of deep roots and identity. The vulnerability of a white person in cross-cultural L.A. was refreshing to me. Not an idealized hero or villain but a perpetually dreaming, emotionally crippled and potentially vital artist of the alcoves. Kinda like me.
Adrian Todd Zuniga is the host and creator of Literary Death Match, which is now featured in 48 cities worldwide. His fiction is found in literary journals and on the Internet.
In 2000 in Chicago, my life's aim as a young, 25-year-old writer was to be the next Raymond Carver. But during that horrifying, ice-riddled February, a girl I liked -- who I laughed with like you hope to laugh with someone -- handed me Peter Farrelly's The Comedy Writer. I, bad at being pretentious but trying my obnoxious best, sneered at her gift, because I was rehearsed at sneering at the slapstick grotesqueries of Farrelly's films (Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin). But I read the book, because that's what you do when you're 25 and you have a crush on a girl. And lucky me: She knew me better than I knew myself. Farrelly's novel opened up seams in my brain that stopped me from separating humor from "literature."
Unsurprisingly, Farrelly's book features a scatter of vulgarly nutty characters, sharp one-liners and a bevy of laugh-out-loud moments as we follow Henry Halloran, a Boston office worker who moves to Los Angeles to "do something spectacular" (in his case, sell comedy screenplays). His grand aim: to win back the Boston-based girlfriend who dumped him. But Halloran's spectacularity is reserved primarily for his flops. But beyond the farce, The Comedy Writer boasts a surprising tenderness, a welcome lack of blackness, as Henry bumbles around sunny L.A. and Hollywood does its demonic best to lure him in soul-compromising directions. Plus, the children's book at the end -- surprise! -- is plain delightful.
See also: And The Best L.A. Novel Ever Is...
Bonnie Nadell is a literary agent at the Beverly Hills-based Hill Nadell Literary Agency, whose clients include the late David Foster Wallace.
I started out thinking The Player, Michael Tolkin's novel, was my favorite L.A. novel, but then I went back and started reading it again. Then I thought about the question more: It's not so much what's my favorite but the one that, as an East Coaster, seemed emblematic of L.A. at a certain time and moment. The book that gave this vision of L.A. was Less Than Zero. At the time I read it, I was working at Simon & Schuster. It was a manuscript, because the editor who'd bought Less Than Zero had left, and I was 24 at the time. They were, like, "Oh, you're young. Why don't you read this and see if you like it?" I still remember the beginning of it, when people are afraid to merge on the freeway. For a New Yorker, it was completely a foreign vision of life, and that was probably when I first thought about moving to California. And I think that's what L.A. novels do: They make people from somewhere else want to come here.
Natashia Deon is a Los Angeles attorney, writer and creator of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit.
Few literary forms say "L.A." like the detective novel. So when I think of my favorite L.A. novel, I'd have to start there. Shooting Elvis by Robert M. Eversz begins with the protagonist, Nina Zero, asking the question: "How did a nice girl like me wind up in a place like this?" What girl hasn't woken up and asked herself that same question or some version of it? Nina's talent for trouble is both well plotted and believable. As an attorney working in our criminal justice system, I have encountered Ninas -- badasses and lawbreakers who somehow maintain their inner decency and are so doggone likable.
A coming-of-age story, Shooting Elvis is also about something I think all women must do at some point in their lives. And that is to cast off false notions of self -- the ones cast upon us by others -- and discover who we most genuinely are so that we can live our best life.
Tyson Cornell is publisher of A Barnacle Book/Rare Bird Books and co-editor of Yes Is The Answer: and Other Prog Rock Tales.
The Los Angeles in John O'Brien's Better is bleak but strangely inviting, the kind of place that drives in you long after reading the novel's final line, "I could do it ... until she tells me to stop." For O'Brien, there are a whole list of reasons why he might have ended things this way. Most readers know him as the guy who wrote Leaving Las Vegas, a tragic debut about a guy who drinks himself to death. Shortly after finding out that his first novel was going to be made into a film, he shot himself. And this is where the Hollywood Babylonian lore often begins, following O'Brien into three posthumously published novels -- which include Stripper Lessons and The Assault on Tony's -- all unfinished at the time of his death and completed by his sister, Erin.
What has haunted me about Better, though, since its release in 2009, isn't the overwhelming degree of excess that exists within its pages. The Los Angeles drinking novel has surely had its day. And though it tends to be tiring to hear from readers at nauseating lengths about the celebrated belligerence of the city's Bukowski bar buddies-turned-writers and glorified junkie lives, Better is the best of the tranquil optimism that threads many of these tortured adventures. Cast with layers of labyrinthine characters (a buddy named Double Felix and a hooker named Zipper), floor plans like DNA and late-night car rides from the hills to the beach, these are the ones that I follow through this city. Until they tell me to stop.
Matthew Specktor is the author of the novels American Dream Machine and That Summertime Sound, as well as a nonfiction book about The Sting. He is a senior editor and founding member of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
How I loathe the question of "best." If only we were allowed to go borough by borough, neighborhood by neighborhood, or I suppose what would really suit Los Angeles mood by mood. Loneliness? Less Than Zero, for me. Psychedelic displacement? Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach, for sure. Yet I suppose the book that lit the city for me most, the one I still turn to for a fresh and revivifying encounter, is John Fante's Ask the Dust. In its sensuality, its surprisingly muscular romance (not here the relatively mandarin remove of Chandler), its sheer adolescent energy, Ask the Dust embarrasses itself more than occasionally. Arturo Bandini's naked and grandiose strivings can be tough to take, and yet the book is just so unfailingly alive. The scents, the sounds, the very air of the city, then and now, still rises from it. Every time I pick the book up and then put it down, I'm surprised my palms don't smell like oranges.
Nick Santora has written for The Sopranos, Law & Order and Prison Break. He co-created Beauty and the Geek and Breakout Kings and wrote the novels Fifteen Digits and Slip and Fall.
My favorite L.A. novel is John Fante's Full of Life. Funny how I, a born-and-bred New Yorker, was introduced to Fante's work by another New Yorker, actor Michael Rapaport, who told me over dinner one night, "You've never read Fante?! I'm sending you a book! You'll love it!" A few days later, the book was delivered and Michael was right -- love at first read. Fante was an Italian-American artist who captured the love, talent and passion of a fictional Italian-American artist. I strive to develop a fraction of his talent.
Michelle Meyering is director of programs and events at PEN Center USA and founding editor of literary journal The Rattling Wall.
Long before it was my favorite Los Angeles novel, Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays was my favorite "sense of place" novel. Prior to reading it, I'd been writing poetry and reaching for California, wondering how a writer develops an authentic sense of place. I was born and raised in Redlands, a former citrus boomtown located two hours east of Los Angeles. It was there that I first read Play It As It Lays, years before I knew anything about Los Angeles, a city I associated with airport pickups and drop-offs. Though California felt inborn to me, as significant as any personal trait, I'd never found a way to transcend description and offer my reader a California experience. Didion does this expertly in Play It As It Lays, a whisper-close portrayal of existence in the late 1960s. Reviewers have called the book "terrifying," "scathing," "relentless" -- and each word is true. Play It As It Lays is a measured interrogation of meaning, control, destiny, facts and fault set across Southern California and delivered straight. In Didion's clutches, readers can do nothing but watch as the state becomes a state of mind, making Play It As It Lays feel full-body, something I appreciated on a deeper level, years later, living in the city.
Katie Orphan is administrative manager at the Last Bookstore.
Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat is a slim volume, and L.A.'s detractors may find that symbolic; however, the image of Los Angeles that Block creates is anything but slight. It is a magical vision of the city, peopled with retro girls, queer boys, secret-agent lover men, people who worship at the altar of dead movie stars and artistic hybrids. In other words, Los Angeles as it is. There is something to be said for every novel that shows the grit and the underbelly and disappointment that flavors Los Angeles, but this tale of Angeleno magical realism captures the spirit of Los Angeles that I have come to know.
Dark and disappointing things do happen in this tale, but there is the awareness that anything can happen: good or bad, magical or mundane. As one of Block's characters puts it, "Everything's an illusion; that's the whole thing about [Los Angeles] -- illusion, imitation, a mirage. Pagodas and palaces and skies, blondes and stars. It makes me too sad. It's like having a good dream. You know you are going to wake up." Not everyone wakes up from that dream, not in the book and not in reality. This is a city of fantastical tales; the artists of the city tell wild tales, and its residents can live even wilder lives. If any novel captures that sense of limitless possibility, it is this story and its subsequent sequels, which follow the ordinary/extraordinary lives of one Angeleno girl and her friends and family.
Suzanne Lummis is director of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, an award-winning teacher with the UCLA Extension and an advocate in various Southern California movements and literary uprisings.
For his scalding wit, multilayered, firsthand knowledge of the city as it was then -- in the '30s -- as it is, in its essence, still, for his characters who transcend "grotesque" to the realm of the uber-real, and for a prose style that other writers might trade a piece of their hearts for -- and get a damn good bargain -- I dub Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust the Greatest Los Angeles Novel.
Like many in his profession, West wrote for the movie studios, so he knew that world, its chintzy little tricks and fabrications, its magnificent absurdities, but his stories did not rest there. The Ivar apartment house where he lived rented to bit players, fallen burlesque queens, aging vaudeville acts. Through an aspiring actress who supported herself principally by other means, he learned the parlance of hookers and call girls. Through other connections at that address, he met and became friendly with a gang of Mexican gun smugglers. A midget who'd come to Hollywood hoping to land a role, presumably playing a midget, brought West chicken broth when he fell ill. West has been called a surreal writer, but the fact is he wrote what he knew, wrote it with a first-rate talent and a fatalist's fiercely comic understanding of the human condition. Finally, though, it's the language itself that gets under one's skin and runs in the blood.
David L. Ulin is book critic of the Los Angeles Times and the author, most recently, of the novella Labyrinth.
I'm suspicious, I'll admit it, about framing literature as a competitive sport. Maybe that's why I don't like the word "best." What does it mean, this designation, when the criteria are so subjective, so much a matter of how a book hits us as we read? I've hated great books and loved lesser ones, and my opinion changes every time I turn a page. We read, in other words -- or at least I do -- to push beyond such binary oppositions; I come to literature not to answer questions but to ask.
This is particularly true, perhaps, in regard to Los Angeles, a city in which literature has never been the central thread. It's not that L.A. hasn't inspired its share of great books, of great writers -- just that we often overlook them, existing as they do outside the city's dominant vernacular, a visual patois characterized in many ways by speed and light. Movies (of course), painting, music: This is how the city represents itself, as a collection of surfaces, often glittering -- or so we like to think. And yet, all this has made, I'd like to suggest, for a better literature, in which by working a little bit below the radar, writers are free to take risks, to blur the lines, in ways that might not be available to them someplace else.
That's why the Los Angeles books I admire most are those that obliterate all sorts of boundaries: between fiction and nonfiction, say, or the popular novel and literature. What do we make, for instance, of Norman Klein's The History of Forgetting, a book of cultural criticism that has a long short story embedded in its center? Or the work of Steve Erickson, perhaps the most iconic contemporary Los Angeles writer, who is defined by his versatility, his ability to write novels (and nonfiction) that operate on a dizzying number of levels all at once? It all goes back to Raymond Chandler, who in the 1930s saw the detective novel as a perfect vehicle to evoke a city in which there was no clear narrative, no clear through line, in which we literally have to make it up as we go along. This, of course, is what a detective does, making crime fiction ideal for writing about a city that can never quite (or, more to the point, completely) recognize itself.
And yet, my favorite (not best, never best) novel about Los Angeles is not a work of crime fiction, although it was written by a master of the form. The book is Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain, the story of a divorced woman in Depression-era Glendale, and everything she has to do to survive. Published in 1941, it is a stunning work of social realism, in which the demarcations of class, of geography (old money versus new, Pasadena versus Glendale) "get very close," to borrow a phrase from Joan Didion, "to what it is about the place." What Cain is after is to portray a society in transition, in which new money, and the ambition that produced it, have changed the ways we interact. That's L.A. in a nutshell, and the key to the novel is the extent to which he understands this as essential to the city's DNA. But even more, it is his conflation of high and low, his use of the conventions of melodrama, honed through exposure to Hollywood, to express something ineffable and complex about how we live here, which makes Mildred Pierce an essential Southern California book. Smart, accessible, tough and nuanced, it is a novel that could only have been created in Los Angeles, an expression not just of its author's vision but also of his sense of place.
K. Kvashay-Boyle is a bookseller at Skylight Books in Los Feliz.
This Wicked World by Richard Lange. This book is about L.A. now. And you'll recognize your city on every page. I'm a bookseller and I take very seriously the matchmaking job of putting the right book in the hands of the right reader. It ought to always be a love affair. This Wicked World is a novel I can recommend to so many different types of book lovers. In that way, Lange's debut noir holds the same varied charms of Los Angeles herself. Don't read much? It's a thrillingly pulpy page-turner about tough guys and their big dogs. Love the classics? It's a completely unpretentious, gripping and beautifully literary tale, starring the kind of bighearted hero readers will adore as his adventures take him from the vibrant streets of Echo Park to the deep desert hideouts of Twentynine Palms, with stops along the way in Hollywood Boulevard's striving nightlife, the limos and mansions of the Westside elite, and the regular apartment complexes of beautiful ex-cops and immigrant kids.
The plot's frank ethnic, racial and situational variety rings true to locals, and the violence resonates with a real vulnerability that only makes it scarier. But most importantly, the effortless depth of feeling in every character's situation, male or female, good guy or bad guy, canine or infant human, is what makes the world of the book -- the world of Los Angeles today -- so thrillingly alive. Read it. You'll fall in love with this one.
Rubén Martinez holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University and is the author of Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West.
Ask the Dust by John Fante. It's become something of a cliché to invoke this book and its author, given Bukowski famously cited Fante as an inspiration and saw to it that Black Sparrow Press brought the Fante catalog back into print. Bukowski and the critics wax long about Fante's style -- a very well-rendered, clean, minimal modernist prose, which is true. But I love Fante because I recognize myself and the city he writes about. Son of Italian immigrants Arturo Bandini, a young struggling writer living in a Bunker Hill flophouse, falls for Mexican waitress Camilla Lopez. Their love is doomed from the start. It's the height of the Depression and he's a poor dago and she's a poor spic and L.A. was nothing if not a WASP kingdom that spit on the likes of them back then. They desire each other through a scrim of shame, torture each other with twisted psychosexual games.
What astonishes is how all the tropes we associate with L.A. today were already so firmly in place by 1939, the year the book was first published: city as place to remake yourself, city of immigrants, city as paradise and apocalypse simultaneously. It is as vivid a portrait of the city as we've got, socially and physically. You can smell the Santa Ana winds, you can taste the dust and feel Fante's deep compassion for the lonely outsiders who then and now roam the city, their stories forever in the shadows. Read carefully, it maps the future of the City of Angels, foretells the riots of '65 and '92, reveals the Mexican soul of past and present.
What's more, I owe this book my sanity. I cracked up with panic attacks a couple of years ago, and as my mind became increasingly filled with dust, as it were, I wrote a song based on the basic narrative of the book. I used the last corner of my rational mind to write that piece: focused on the task like a laser and the creative process somehow saw me through till I got the help I needed. It's a good song, if I may say so. How could it not be, based on such a great book? Let's just say that through Bandini and Camilla I see my own and my parents' and grandparents' journey through the City of Angels, our immigrant epic through this apocalyptic paradise that is my home.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi is senior poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and Apocalyptic Swing.
I always wanted to go home. Wherever I was, when I was young, I always wanted to be somewhere else. Away from the small town I lived in. Away from the other small town I lived in. I suppose it's why I loved the movies so much, and soap operas, and the radio.
I can't remember if I read the book first or saw the movie. I think I read Less Than Zero before I saw the film, but it all kind of gets lost in my memory of Jami Gertz wearing that black leather jacket with her hair swept up really high and the red light of the party washing over her. I wanted to be there, with her. I wasn't really interested in Clay, but now I realize I slipped right into him and that the particular mastery of that book is the fact that Clay fits all sizes. I was a girl in a small town who wanted to be a boy in a bright city. I wanted to go to parties and do things I couldn't even name yet with dark-haired girls. I always tell people that I never thought I'd live in Los Angeles, but rereading Less Than Zero I realize that's a lie. I'm pretty sure it was Less Than Zero that made me not so much want to live in Los Angeles as begin to build a space in my mind where I already did. Was that the book that first described the light in L.A. for me? Not the lush wash of sunset but the stark light that makes you feel both heavy and completely aware of every sound the trees are making. I think so. I know it's the first place I heard about the winds, though as I reread it I keep thinking that he's talking about the Santa Anas and isn't December a little late for those? No. He's right. They happen in winter.
I should find all of those kids sadder than I do. Somehow the book makes me forget that I've aged. I got to L.A. and a few months later I was standing at a New Year's party thrown by people I didn't know, and the host walked by and someone said something to him, and he said, "I don't really know anyone here." You could see all the way across the city and we had to take a shuttle down to Sunset to get our cars. What I'm saying is, once I got to Los Angeles, I didn't really want to be anywhere else.
Is Less Than Zero the best novel about L.A.? I don't know. It seems to me to defy that sort of quantification. It remains timeless even though everyone's listening to Duran Duran. It's impossible to put down. The light is exactly right. We should have gone to Palm Springs. It's a masterpiece. If you're into that sort of thing.
Kate Gale is managing editor of Red Hen Press, editor of the Los Angeles Review and president of the American Composers Forum, L.A.
Los Angeles novels came to me as soon as I arrived in the hot air. I read to understand everything, the flashes in pans, the sizzle of the sidewalk under palms, the translucent air and all that fire in summer. The beaches spread out like desire, all heat and no shadow. But there were shadows and dark figures in them. Golden Days and The Day of the Locust were my beginning, the charging of the filmed light brigades against the swarm of hustlers hoping to interchangeably become something else, something more liquid and forceful, some better version of themselves, the transformed gods of America against the apocalypse. We're the better version of the American dream. Not a house but a mansion by the sea, not a beautiful wife but a clever tainted woman with breasts that obscure the sunset, not two good children but two young stars, not trees but palm trees, not a dog but a pet dragon.
All that wild and dark and light comes together in Janet Fitch's Paint It Black, which I've always thought would make an amazing opera. Like opera, the whole story walks toward you on stilted feet, wetter than it should be, taller than it should be and gasping with a truth that is bigger than reality. Josie Tyrell wants a life of art and love and parties; she meets the rich and handsome Michael, who sees in her a princess. But the downside of telling a woman she's a princess is having to play the prince. And playing the prince is too much for our damaged hero, who has Medusa's dirty fingers playing up his thighs, his father's wounded pride not enough to rescue him. It's all of our dream, that life becomes one big party, art happening around you like the beach and the ocean, thrumming and inevitable. Because you're there. In the dark and dirty of it. Swept. In love. Josie and Michael have it all, the great sex you enter like a room, the great passionate love that burns too quickly, the looming figure of the mother with the money, their great passion black against the music of Los Angeles that goes on and on in Josie's head long after Michael is dead.
And she has a choice then, to walk into Michael's family and be blanketed by all that money, or drop, scrawny as a bird fallen from a nest, wild and thorny against all comfort, to face the other side of Los Angeles alone; no one takes care of you unless you give up pieces of yourself. The wealth you see in movies is always all an illusion for the rest of us. Los Angeles in Paint It Black is dark and unfiltered; it is poetry and death. It is destruction against beauty. Open the bay doors; let's tumble out of Los Angeles into deep space. Let's see what reality tastes like again; we've been to hell and back in this wasted city, so we already know.
Joseph Mattson is the author of Empty the Sun and Eat Hell and the editor of Girlvert: A Porno Memoir and The Speed Chronicles.
Best L.A. novel thus far is John Fante's Ask the Dust. You're going to get a lot of agreement on this, it's the running favorite, I suppose -- yeah? And I was not certain I should tell you it is the best for me -- that is, before some re-investigation. Hell, I'm sure it's transparent that it is my best.
I am choosing Ask the Dust ultimately for Los Angeles-centric reasons over personal ones. This is important to me. The novel, of course, speaks angelic choirs in volumes to the writer-on-the-make in Los Angeles -- it is Hamsun's Hunger, in nod, and, retrospectively, it is Bukowski's Post Office, yet more more more. I reread the book -- damn, it's the only book I've ever read more than five times, now it's a half-dozen -- to make sure I was not favoring it solely for that old kindred typewriter fire that sings to learning how to be a writer, even specifically in this city -- which of course is a fine enough and damn justifiable enough reason to pick it anyway!
No -- here's the deal. We KNOW how Ask the Dust is going to end. Yet we're white-knuckle gripped. Even in the deceivingly simple, minutest ways, we know: the streetcars (extinct); Bunker Hill (ravaged w/redevelopment); divisive skin color/culture/"race" and socioeconomic convergences (frustrations to infinity); hell, even driving a convertible out to the beach -- titan-cum-peon when the top won't work when the rain does fall!
And, paramount to it all -- we know Bandini will not just will not no fucking way end up with the girl -- but we are gripped. YES. DESPITE all of the above, we are gripped. Even the ultimate requisite earthquake is here in the lines, in the pages -- same as the one expected and we are ever collectively expecting NOW -- this consolation punishment we all sign up for in accordance with the audacity of forcing our flowers to take root and (goddamnit, hopefully!) bloom into success in this impossible and ever-possible empire of sand...
This is the straddle of apocalypse, my friend, it's all here -- the personal (oh, Camilla!), and the Los Angeles consciousness at large (everything I've stated above, and more! -- Christ! It is only late-'30s Los Angeles and the palm trees are already choked with the exhaust of the automobile!). This roman à clef somehow holds the key to past-through-present L.A. experience, personal demons and Armageddons-at-large -- speaking to the neophyte Angeleno and too singing praise of the hardened-wise of Angeltown -- never in cheap nostalgia -- fuck nostalgia! -- but in real sweat and tears that shed only here in our town.
Billy Goldstein is the marketing director at Red Hen Press, an independent publisher of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
When he arrives in Los Angeles in August 1969, Ike Jerome (or Vikar, as he comes to be known) is a 24-year-old former seminary student. On his shaved head are tattooed close-ups of Monty Clift and Liz Taylor, "the two most beautiful people in the history of the movies," from the terrace scene in A Place in the Sun. Vikar has come to Southern California to work in the temple of his new religion, The Movies. He begins his vocation with an act of violence; eating at Philippe's, barely in town an hour, he smashes his tray down on the head of a hippie -- "blasphemer" -- who mistakes the inky angels on his skull for James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause. Over the next 12-odd years and 300-odd pages of Zeroville, Steve Erickson's brilliant and beautiful eighth novel, the childlike and violent Vikar works his way from handyman at the Roosevelt Hotel to feature film editor, ultimately discovering "the astonishing secret that lies in every movie ever made," as the book's descriptive copy has it. Through Vikar's eyes we see, roughly, the rise and fall of New Hollywood, the emergence of punk, and probably a few other cultural upheavals I'm forgetting. We also get a crash course in mystical cinematic metaphysics. But Zeroville is not a hokey vision quest. Vikar's esoteric learning is deeply tied to the structure of the book, and it is also the source of some hysterically funny set pieces. Despite the milieu, the everlasting litany of references and cameos, Zeroville is not really a Hollywood novel, either. Rather, it's about The Movies themselves, a cosmic phenomenon whose spiritual home has been abandoned. And yet, one senses throughout that it's the weird energy of Los Angeles animating the proceedings, the secret engine powering the vortex, that enables Zeroville to straddle the line between real and surreal. It's a book about a place that is everywhere and nowhere. I've never read anything else like it.
Hector Tobar has worked as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times for nearly 20 years. He shared a Pulitzer Prize for the paper's coverage of the 1992 riots, and he is a native of the city of Los Angeles.
My favorite L.A. novel is Ask the Dust, John Fante's portrait of the central Los Angeles of the Great Depression. Ask the Dust is set, for the most part, in a neighborhood that, but a few decades later, was largely wiped off the map: Bunker Hill. You can read Ask the Dust like a literary archaeologist, but it's also a tender portrait of the wounded souls gathering in what was then the newest U.S. megalopolis, a new, sunny and yet incredibly lonely place. Fante's L.A. is filled with "broken, uprooted people from the East." It's a surprisingly multi-ethnic city too, with Filipinos and Japanese kids playing football, and Jewish refugees, scenes inside L.A.'s "black belt," and a head-strong and troubled Mexican-American as the love interest of the novel's protagonist, the writer (and Fante alter ego) Arturo Bandini.
See also: And The Best L.A. Novel Ever Is...
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