Read me, L. A.: a book lover’s celebration of Los Angeles by Katie Orphan explores L.A.’s literary heritage and the people, places and events that gave it life. Orphan, a writer and manager of a local bookstore, has written a book that is ostensibly marketed as a literary tour guide of the city, but functions as a paean to Los Angeles’ portfolio of literary assets and the writers who lovingly contributed to it.
The book’s central focus is exploring the work of both contemporary and long-departed writers who made Los Angeles a central character within their stories. It alternates between interviews with contemporary writers and Orphan’s literary tourism of Los Angeles. Along the way, she populates the book with reading lists, tantalizing literary quotes, a roll call of fictive gumshoes, and more. There are also local events for book lovers, literary landmarks, trendy southland bookstores, and a register of the final resting places of some of the most prolific writers ever known--all here in Los Angeles, of course.
The most substantive elements in the book are Orphan’s interviews with prominent writers like Michael Connelly, Francesca Lia Block and Michael Tolkin. These interviews aren’t meant to give us a peek at their process but, instead, to understand how the City of the Angels has both shaped their work and factored into their writing over the years. Connelly, for example, reveals that his job as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times gave him an understanding of LAPD operations that would ring true when they materialized within his novels. It also gave him insights into the city that native Angelenos would easily recognize. Orphan is also mindful of L.A.’s multicultural literary heritage and speaks to authors like Naomi Hirahara, Dana Johnson, and Luis J. Rodriguez who have, through their writing, given literary representation to communities of color throughout the city.
Speaking as an L.A. history enthusiast, I found Orphan’s literary tourism to be the most fun part of her book. In the absence of living writers from the past to converse with, Orphan set out to discover the literary Los Angeles of yore. She examines classic works from James M Cain, Charles Bukowski, Nathaniel West, John Fante, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler and Raymond Chandler, often following street directions laid out within their narratives. Orphan's tourism takes us to landmarks in the city’s literary tradition, and we wind up in still flourishing destinations like the Chinese Theater (Day of the Locust), Forest Lawn (Mildred Pierce) and Grand Central Market (Ask the Dust), as well as long lost corners of the city like the Venice Pier (Death is a Lonely Business), and Sleepy Lagoon (Zoot Suit). Anyone who enjoys exploring real-life locales, described in fiction, will delight in following Orphan's quest.
Orphan’s well-rounded knowledge of all genres of Los Angeles-centric fiction is on display but there’s no conceit here. The book is fun, beautifully designed, informative and smart. Orphan honors our great city by reminding us of our literary traditions as well as the L.A. authors, both past and present, who gave it life. This is definitely a book you want to take with you next time you’re out and about in the City of Angels.
At the present time this book is not available in e-media.