Five Favorite Books is a special feature at LA Books Examiner in which our favorite authors share their five favorite books within a category. In this edition, local author David Prybil discusses his five favorite books set in California. A writer-producer based in LA, David is the author of Golden State, his award-winning debut novel which follows a quartet of Californians pursuing their own American Dreams during the crazy recall election season of 2003 that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power. You can learn more about David and his fresh and entertaining new book at www.davidprybil.com or read the first chapter of Golden State here at LA Books Examiner.
Five Favorite Books Set in California by Golden State Author David Prybil
Even before it officially became a state, California symbolized the American Dream better than anyplace else in our union. It’s where dreamers have always gone to make their dreams come true, whether those dreams involved striking it rich, becoming a star, or reinventing oneself entirely and starting anew. Thus, it should not be surprising to discover that it also offers a rich setting for storytellers looking for big, dramatic stories to tell. Some of these stories are true, and some are merely based on truths, but they all derive their power from the vast possibilities that California has to offer, and the perils for those who lose their way.
1) The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939)
No list of California fiction would be complete without this seminal work, which follows the struggles of the Joad Family, who head west to California from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma, hoping for better lives and opportunities. Here, we get an early glimpse of the downsides to a dream that is being shared by too many, as the hard-working, good-hearted Joads endure endless setbacks and privations at the hands of God, nature, and those who have come ahead of them, but never see the fruits of their labors, even when the things they seek are so close that they can literally reach out and touch them. Also: for a more modern take on many of these same themes, played out between the denizens of an upscale gated community and the family of illegal Mexican immigrants living in a dried-out gulch behind their sprawling homes, see The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. [Read Frank Mundo’s interview with T.C. Boyle.]
2) A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O’ Brien (1977)
While there has been no shortage of great Hollywood novels written through the years, the thing that sets this lesser-known novel apart is its sharp-eyed depiction of fame’s afterglow, when the good times are largely past, the good roles are few and far between, and all that remains are the memories, the trappings, and the delusions of grandeur. In this regard, the book is of a piece with the film Sunset Boulevard, but because the main character here is a child, based on the writer’s own experience as the son of two fading Golden Age stars, it avoids the usual jaded tones, and instead offers refreshing humor, an insider’s knowing detail, and a wide-eyed innocence that things might still work out for the best.
3) Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski (1982)
A perfect counterpoint to O’ Brien’s book of privileged hardships is found in this early novel by Bukowski, the first in which he uses his alter ego character, Henry Chinaski, to detail an acne-ridden adolescence in low-class East LA that is so raw, mean and ugly, it is hard not to look away. But because Bukowski himself never flinches, because he is so unsparing with his own flaws and failings, it achieves a sort of transcendent, hard-bitten beauty that is uniquely his own. A true original.
Read the rest of David Prybil’s picks at Frank Mundo’s LA Books Examiner.
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Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales (foreword by Carolyn See), which is available on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble in paperback and in eBook. The Brubury Tales won Reader View’s 2011 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Poetry Book of the Year and the 2011 Bookhitch Award for Most Innovative Poetry Book of the Year.