10 Must-Read Books Set in California

Classic California Literature to Start With

Classic California Literature

California has been the subject of a lot of written works throughout history. With its picturesque landscapes and diverse cultures, California has been recognized by countless authors worldwide. Here are some classic California literature that you can start with:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

One of the defining works of the Great Depression era, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck follows the story of a family that leaves Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and migrates to California. It chronicles the hardships and injustices that they faced with the hope of a better life in the land of milk and honey.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

This groundbreaking series of nine novels by Armistead Maupin follows the lives of a group of San Franciscans during the late 1970s and early 80s. With its depiction of the city’s colorful characters and the intricacies of their interwoven relationships, “Tales of the City” is an enduring classic that captures the spirit and cultural identity of San Francisco.

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion

Set in Los Angeles, “Play It as It Lays” is a heartbreaking portrayal of a Hollywood actress on the edge. It’s a commentary on the dark side of fame and the despair that often accompanies it.

Ask the Dust by John Fante

“Ask the Dust” is a semi-autobiographical novel about a struggling writer named Arturo Bandini trying to make it in 1930s Los Angeles. It offers a glimpse into the existential questions that Arturo grapples with while trying to navigate the complexities of love, art, and identity.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Set in Los Angeles, “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch follows the story of a young girl named Astrid who becomes a ward of the state after her mother is imprisoned for murder. It’s a poignant coming-of-age story that’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of forgiveness.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

“The Joy Luck Club” is a novel about the lives of four Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters. Set in San Francisco, it’s a poignant exploration of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the cultural differences that can divide generations.

These classic California literature works are just a few examples of the rich literary tradition that the state has to offer. They capture a time and place that is uniquely Californian and are worth reading for anyone interested in exploring the cultural and historical significance of this great state.

Contemporary Novels and Memoirs Set in California

Beach in California

California, the land of sunshine and dreams, has been the subject of countless literary works. From the beaches of Malibu to the glittering streets of Hollywood, the state has inspired many authors to set their stories here. In this article, we will recommend some of the best contemporary novels and memoirs set in California.

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale Jr.

Catch Me If You Can is a memoir by Frank Abagnale Jr., who, at the age of 16, began impersonating various professionals, including a doctor, a lawyer, and a pilot. He managed to get away with millions of dollars in fraud before finally being caught. The majority of the book takes place in California, where Abagnale carried out many of his schemes.

The book provides a fascinating look into the mind of a master con artist, and the lengths he went to in order to avoid capture. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and a reminder that crime doesn’t pay.

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors is a psychological thriller by B.A. Paris that takes place in California. The novel follows the seemingly perfect lives of Jack and Grace, a couple who are admired by all their friends and family. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that their marriage is not what it seems.

The book is a gripping page-turner that explores themes of domestic abuse and control. It’s a chilling reminder that danger can lurk behind even the most idyllic facade.

The Savages

The Savages by Matt Whyman

The Savages is a novel by Matt Whyman that takes place in California. The book tells the story of a family of cannibals who live in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The story is narrated by the youngest son of the family, who is struggling with his love for his girlfriend and his guilt over the family’s actions.

The book is a dark and unsettling satire that explores themes of family, identity, and morality. It’s a unique and thought-provoking read that is sure to stay with you long after you finish it.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a memoir by Cheryl Strayed that takes place in California. The book chronicles Strayed’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage. As she hikes the trail, Strayed reflects on her life and the challenges she has faced.

The book is a moving and inspiring story of self-discovery and redemption. It’s a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope for a brighter future.

White Fang

White Fang by Jack London

White Fang is a novel by Jack London that takes place in California during the Klondike Gold Rush. The book follows the story of a wild wolf-dog hybrid named White Fang, who is forced to adapt to life as a domesticated sled dog.

The book is a classic tale of survival and transformation that explores themes of nature, civilization, and the bonds between humans and animals. It’s a timeless story that has captivated readers for over a century.

In conclusion, there are many great contemporary novels and memoirs set in California that offer unique and compelling perspectives on life in the Golden State. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling psychological thriller or a moving memoir, there’s something for everyone on this recommended reading list.

LGBTQ Authors from California to Add to Your Reading List

Rainbow flag in San Francisco

California is known for being at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States. It’s no surprise that the state has produced some of the most influential and brilliant LGBTQ authors of our time. This list features three incredible authors from California who are definitely worth adding to your reading list.

Armistead Maupin

1. Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin is a well-known LGBTQ author from San Francisco, California. Maupin is famous for his “Tales of the City” series, which was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. The series was later compiled into several novels and became an instant classic. The “Tales of the City” series is set in San Francisco and tells the story of a diverse group of characters living in a communal house at 28 Barbary Lane. The series deals with LGBTQ issues and themes, including gay culture, relationships, and HIV/AIDS. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in LGBTQ literature.

Audre Lourde

2. Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a Black feminist, poet, and author from New York City who eventually settled in Berkeley, California. Lorde is one of the most important figures in LGBTQ literature, as well as Black feminist literature. Her writing focused on issues of race, gender, and sexuality and often intersected with her personal experiences as a Black lesbian. Some of her most famous works include “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name,” “Sister Outsider,” and “The Cancer Journals.” Lorde’s writing is powerful, raw, and deeply personal. It’s essential reading for anyone interested in LGBTQ and Black feminist literature.

Leslie Feinberg

3. Leslie Feinberg

Leslie Feinberg was a Jewish, transgender author and activist from Buffalo, New York, who lived in San Francisco during the 1980s and ’90s. Feinberg’s writing focused on issues of gender identity and expression, as well as LGBTQ and labor rights. Her most famous work, “Stone Butch Blues,” is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young butch lesbian growing up in Buffalo in the 1960s and ’70s. The book deals with themes of gender, sexuality, and class and is considered a classic in LGBTQ literature. Feinberg’s writing is raw, powerful, and deeply personal. Her work is essential reading for anyone interested in transgender and LGBTQ literature.

In conclusion, these California authors have made significant contributions to the LGBTQ literary canon, and their work is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the LGBTQ experience in America. From Armistead Maupin’s vivid storytelling of San Francisco’s gay culture to Audre Lorde’s intersectional feminist perspective, to Leslie Feinberg’s explorations of gender identity and expression, LGBTQ literature from California is vibrant, diverse, and essential.

Children’s Books Set in California

Children's Books Set in California

California is filled with diverse geography, unique cities, and colorful history, making it an excellent setting for children’s books. These books can provide a sense of familiarity for Californian children or transport children from other places to the Golden State. Below are some great children’s books set in California:

1. “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper and George and Doris Hauman

The Little Engine That Could san francisco

This classic story about a determined little engine has been adapted to different locations over the years, but the San Francisco version is a favorite among Californians. In this version, the little engine overcomes steep hills and treacherous terrain to bring toys to children in San Francisco.

2. “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins california

This Newbery Medal-winning novel tells the story of a young girl named Karana, who is stranded on an island off the coast of Southern California. She must learn to survive on her own, facing challenges such as wild dogs and harsh weather. This book is inspired by the real-life story of Juana Maria, a Native American woman who lived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years.

3. “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby california

This beloved book by Beverly Cleary features the mischievous Ramona Quimby as she navigates life in the Portland neighborhood of Klickitat Street. Although the book is set in Oregon, Ramona’s father works in California, and Ramona dreams of visiting the Golden State. The book provides a relatable story for children who may have family members who travel for work.

4. “The Rainbow Goblins” by Ul De Rico

The Rainbow Goblins

This fantasy book takes readers on a journey through the colors of the rainbow. The Rainbow Goblins live in the hills of California and spend their days capturing the colors of the sky. The book’s illustrations are stunning, making it a memorable read for children and adults alike.

5. “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game california

This mystery novel takes place in Sunset Towers, a fictional apartment complex in Wisconsin. However, the game’s grand prize is a California mansion, providing a fun connection to California. The complex’s diverse group of residents makes for a compelling read as they try to solve the mystery of Sam Westing’s death.

Children’s books set in California offer readers a glimpse into the beauty and diversity of the state’s landscape. These books also provide relatable stories for children who live in the state or have connections to it. Whether it’s learning how to survive on an island or dreaming of traveling to new places, these books spark children’s imaginations and inspire them to explore the world around them.

California-Based Mystery and Crime Fiction to Keep You Guessing

California-Based Mystery and Crime Fiction to Keep You Guessing

If you’re a fan of crime and mystery fiction and looking for books based in the Golden State, then this list is for you! We’ve compiled a list of the top five California-based mystery and crime novels that promise to keep you guessing until the very end.

1. “The Black Dahlia” by James Ellroy

Inspired by the infamous unsolved murder case of Elizabeth Short, “The Black Dahlia” is a fictional account of the investigation into the case. Set in Los Angeles in the ’40s, the book follows the story of two detectives who become obsessed with solving the brutal murder of a young woman. The book is known for its use of gritty, hard-boiled prose and its exploration of the dark underworld of Los Angeles at the time.

2. “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler

First published in 1939, “The Big Sleep” is considered a classic of the crime fiction genre. Set in Los Angeles, the book follows private detective Philip Marlowe as he investigates the blackmailing of a wealthy family. The book is known for its complex plot and memorable characters, and is regarded as one of Chandler’s finest works.

3. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

Published in 1930, “The Maltese Falcon” is regarded as one of the greatest works of crime fiction ever written. The book follows private detective Sam Spade as he investigates the theft of a valuable statue. Set in San Francisco, the book is known for its fast-paced plot and memorable characters, and has been adapted into several successful films.

4. “City of the Dead” by Tony Abbott

“City of the Dead” is a young adult novel that follows the story of thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill as he investigates a series of mysterious deaths in San Francisco. With the help of his friend Amy, Dan sets out to unravel the mystery and uncover the truth behind the deaths. The book is known for its suspenseful plot and engaging characters, and is a great read for both teens and adults.

5. “The Bosch Trilogy” by Michael Connelly

“The Bosch Trilogy” is a series of novels by bestselling author Michael Connelly that follow the story of Los Angeles homicide detective Harry Bosch. The first book in the series, “The Black Echo,” was published in 1992 and was followed by “The Black Ice” and “The Concrete Blonde”. The books are known for their intense plotlines, memorable characters, and expertly crafted mysteries. If you’re a fan of crime fiction that delves into the dark side of Los Angeles, then “The Bosch Trilogy” is a must-read!

These five California-based mystery and crime novels are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. With their engaging characters, suspenseful plots, and expertly crafted mysteries, each book is a fantastic read for any fan of the genre. So pick up one of these books today and start unraveling the mysteries of the Golden State!

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