Travel Loot

The Dark Side of Hollywood in a Dozen Books

by Natalie Compagno

Dusk on the Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by Ryan Vaarsi / Flickr.

As part of the literary tour of Los Angeles that she wrote for us, native girl and Traveler's Bookcase owner Natalie Compagno gives us a list of twelve engrossing books set in the spectacularly seedy, sometimes grim, always doggedly enthused side of Tinsel Town. (Note: The list is hers, the synopses are ours.)

LOS ANGELES – A suggested reading list to inspire you before you come, to enjoy while you're here, and to travel back, no matter where you are.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

1. The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler

Hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe takes us on a crime spree through the streets of 1930s Los Angeles.


The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

2. The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West

Follow a motley crew of individuals struggling to make it in Great Depression-era Hollywood.


Ask The Dust by John Fante

3. Ask The Dust
by John Fante

A young, struggling writer falls in love with an elusive and mentally unstable waitress in downtown LA during the Great Depression.


Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

4. Play It As It Lays
by Joan Didion

Set in the late 1960s, an unfulfilled actress deals with broken relationships, mental illnesses, and death as she goes from Hollywood to Las Vegas to the barren Mojave Desert.

Out of My Skin

5. Out of My Skin
by John Haskell

When exploring the world of celebrity impersonators, a recent LA transplant and writer loses himself as he, too, slowly transforms into his version of Steve Martin.

City of Quartz

6. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles
by Mike Davis

What does power in this city even mean? Through a series of essays, Davis uncovers and explains the forces and structures that move (and control) LA. You'll never look at this town the same way again.


The Love of the Last Tycoon

7. The Love of the Last Tycoon
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Compiled and published posthumously, the story follows a young Hollywood mogul's rise to power in the heyday of the studio system, inspired by "Boy Wonder" Irving Thalberg.

8. The Barbarian Nurseries
by Hector Tobar

A grumpy Mexican maid is left in charge of her bosses' children after a couple's spat turns physical. She takes them from a safe, gated community to downtown Los Angeles. Misadenvtures ensue. 

9. Less Than Zero
by Brett Easton Ellis

Set in the early '80s, an eastern college boy comes home to LA for Christmas vacation and gets lost in a downward spiral of sex, drugs, and desperation.


10. Tortilla Curtain
by T.C. Boyle

An illegal immigrant couple camping in the ravine of Topanga Canyon meet a libreral couple living in a gated community on top of Topanga. Two opposing worlds collide, leading to misunderstanding in this tragicomedy.

11. Post Office
by Charles Bukowski

In Bukowski's debut novel, Henry Chinaski plays his fictional alter ego as a middle-aged mail carrier surviving off booze, women, and racetrack betting.


12. American Dream Machine
by Matthew Specktor

Two generations of Hollywood royalty — a talent agent and his troubled sons — navigate the successes and failures of the movie business in the late 1970s.



Cliff's Notes to Literary Los Angeles
3 Literary Tours of LA from Print to Pavement
Fathom's Guide to Los Angeles

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