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.