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27 Books To Read If You’re California Dreamin’

What’s better than the California sunshine, a warm breeze off the Pacific Coast, and a glass of wine from the vineyards of Napa Valley? All of those things, plus a book! If you want to be transported to the Golden State and can’t get there in person, try grabbing one of these books instead. We can’t guarantee that they’ll be exactly the same as a California vacation, but they’re pretty darn close.
  1. 1

    Where I Was From

    Native Californian Joan Didion takes a look at her home state in this thoughtful, well-researched book. Both proud of and dissatisfied with her home of California, she explores both the past and present, ranging on topics from robber barons, to water crises, to thoughts on individualism versus the incarceration. Didion’s craft shines throughout the text, and her passion for this beautiful, complex and often contradictory place draws us in.

    Where I Was From Book Cover Picture
  2. 2

    Good Vibrations

    The New York Times bestselling Good Vibrations tells the story of Mike Love’s legendary, raucous, and ultimately triumphant five-decade career as the front man of the Beach Boys, the most popular American band in history.

    Good Vibrations Book Cover Picture
  3. 3

    The Girls

    One of the most buzzworthy books of the summer, Emma Cline’s novel takes place in 1960s Northern California, following teenage Evie Boyd. Like many young girls, she feels lonely and out-of-place — that is, until she meets the mesmerizing Suzanne, and is drawn into a group of people following a dangerously charismatic man. A taut, psychological read, this is a coming-of-age tale like no other.

    The Girls Book Cover Picture
  4. 4

    East of Eden

    In this sprawling epic of the Salinas Valley of California, the Trask and Hamilton families live out their own versions of Biblical stories. The fall of Adam and Eve, the rivalry of Cain and Abel, are reenacted by these unwitting participants as they love, betray and shed blood in the rich farmlands of the valley.

    East of Eden Book Cover Picture
  5. 5

    California

    From pre-colonization to present-day, this sweeping history of California gives you a thorough grounding of the events that have shaped this unique, diverse state. Delightfully engaging, Kevin Starr approaches the evolution of the state with a sense of wonder, zeroing in on defining moments (such as the 1848 Gold Rush, the earthquake of 1904, and the emergence of Hollywood and Silicon Valley), while keeping the broader contexts firmly in mind.

    California Book Cover Picture
  6. 6

    The Joy Luck Club

    In San Francisco, 1949, four Chinese women meet to play mahjong, eat dim sum, and talk about their lives. A generation later, their American-born daughters try to relate to the mothers of the Joy Luck Club, and find themselves struggling. The gap between their experiences is great, between the hardships the Joy Luck women experienced in China and as immigrants, and their daughters’ challenges in reconciling their heritage with their American upbringing. Beautifully insightful, The Joy Luck Club is an unforgettable classic.

    The Joy Luck Club Book Cover Picture
  7. 7

    The Big Sleep

    You’ve seen the timeless movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, but have you read the book? Raymond Chandler’s noir mystery novel find Philip Marlowe facing down a dangerous blackmailer, becoming embroiled himself in seedy dealings as he tries to help the daughter of a dying millionaire.

    The Big Sleep Book Cover Picture
  8. 8

    Ana of California

    After ruining her last chance with a foster family, fifteen-year-old Ana Cortez agrees to take part in a farm trainee program, in this updated retelling of the classic Anne of Green Gables. Moving from the fast city life of East L.A. to the rural pace of Northern California, Ana slowly starts to find her place in a way she never has before. When trouble still manages to find her, she fears she just might lose it all again.

    Ana of California Book Cover Picture
  9. 9

    Malibu Farm Cookbook

    Written by the chef-owner of the restaurant, Malibu Farm, Helene Henderson uses locally-sourced, fresh ingredients to create simple, delicious recipes straight from the Pacific coast. Recipes like Ricotta and Pea Frittata, Seared Fava Beans, and Grilled Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce, paired with tantalizingly colorful photography, will have you craving some Californian cooking. If you want to know what California tastes like, this is it.

    Malibu Farm Cookbook Book Cover Picture
  10. 10

    L.A. Noir

    The basis of TNT’s Original Series MOB CITY, L.A. Noir brings us two powerful men on opposite sides of the law — one the chief of police, and the other, the city’s most infamous gangster. Set in a city where a gleaming Hollywood veneer covers a sick and twisted reality, this thriller isn’t afraid to get down and dirty in the seedy underbelly of the City of Angels.

    L.A. Noir Book Cover Picture
  11. 11

    Wild (Movie Tie-in Edition)

    Cheryl Strayed’s powerful memoir was famous even before the movie adaptation with Reese Witherspoon, but just in case you missed it, you might want to pick this one up now. In a wake of personal tragedies, Cheryl Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert up through California, Oregon, and Washington State. Despite her lack of formal training or experience, she manages to survive against those odds, finding herself as she finds her way along the beautiful and dangerous terrain of the Pacific coast.

    Wild (Movie Tie-in Edition) Book Cover Picture
  12. 12

    Perfidia

    Taking us back to the gritty streets of L.A. in the 1940s, Ellroy’s noir mystery introduces us to four different characters brought together by the brutal murder of a Japanese family. An LAPD captain, an Irish war profiteer, a Japanese police chemist, and a 21-year-old dilettante are brought together by this horrific act, and must work their way through it–or the political storm it has created might just implode.

    Perfidia Book Cover Picture
  13. 13

    Sticky Fingers

    The first and only biography of Jann Wenner, the iconic founder of Rolling Stone magazine, and a romp through the hothouses of rock and roll, politics, media, and Hollywood, from the Summer of Love to the Internet age.

    Sticky Fingers Book Cover Picture
  14. 14

    China Dolls

    In 1938 San Francisco, the world is an oyster for three young women. Grace Lee was born in the Midwest, but has come to the city to chase her dreams. Chinatown-hailing Helen Fong still lives there with her traditional parents and extended family. Ruby Tom is sure her beauty and ambition will get her to some grand places. But when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, and the paranoid suspicion of Asian cultures rises, their lives are changed forever.

    China Dolls Book Cover Picture
  15. 15

    The Mountains of California

    John Muir tackles the stunning California mountains in this sensitive, poetic tribute. A preservationist and environmental philosopher, his words ring with sincerity in their celebration of California’s natural beauty. From Yosemite Valley to Kings Canyon, Sequoia Groves to Mount Whiskey, Muir transports readers to the landscape that defines California.

    The Mountains of California Book Cover Picture
  16. 16

    West of Eden

    Jean Stein paints a vivid picture of Los Angeles through the true stories of five very different individuals who have called the city their home. Finding both triumph and loss in L.A. are a Midwestern oil tycoon, the film-studio-founding son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, the daughter of a scheming aspiring actress, a struggling successful actress, and Jean Stein’s own father, whose agency and studio helped shape Hollywood.

    West of Eden Book Cover Picture
  17. 17

    The New California Wine

    Written by wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, John Bonné’s part narrative, part guidebook reveals the people and stories behind the wines we love. Looking at the revolutionary California wine industry of today, Bonné captures the spirit of this new generation, as well as helpful notes on the essential wines to pursue, and those to miss. Stunning photographs, tours of California vineyard areas, and a reference list at the back make this a comprehensive and engaging text.

    The New California Wine Book Cover Picture
  18. 18

    Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

    Elsa Emerson begins her life as a stage-loving child in 1920s Wisconsin. When tragedy strikes her family, however, Elsa marries young and escapes to L.A. to be an actress, starting a new life as Laura Lamont (thanks to her discovery by a Hollywood mogul). As she struggles to embody Laura Lamont, amidst the glittering fame and familial obligations, she begins to realize that Elsa might not be as gone as she thought.

    Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures Book Cover Picture
  19. 19

    The Maltese Falcon

    Dashiell Hammett’s iconic San Francisco private detective Sam Spade faces perfumed grifters, shady thugs, policemen and a beautiful but dangerous woman in this case to find a priceless gold falcon statuette. Nothing and no one are as they seem, and the biggest question on anyone’s mind is: who has the Maltese Falcon?

    The Maltese Falcon Book Cover Picture
  20. 20

    The Octopus

    A tale inspired by true events, The Octopus follows the brutal conflict between the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad and the wheat farmers of California, as they fight for control of the land. Neither side is innocent, as the farmers resort to tactics just as dirty as the greedy, monopolizing company they are up against. Set in the 1880s, this tale nevertheless has a strong sense of urgency and immediacy.

    The Octopus Book Cover Picture
  21. 21

    Blue Nights

    From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this  book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.

    Blue Nights Book Cover Picture
  22. 22

    My Hollywood

    New parents Claire and Paul move to L.A. to support Paul’s career in television comedy writing, leaving Claire at home with the baby. Finding herself over her head, she hires Lola, a Filipino woman in her fifties with five kids of her own to support back in the Philippines. Lola comes to hold the family together, but the sacrifices she makes to stay there, only she knows.

    My Hollywood Book Cover Picture
  23. 23

    Big Sur

    In Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical character, Jack Duluoz, we see a man struggling with the comedown from his carefree past and newfound fame, as well as the demons he now faces. Duluoz goes to a cabin in Big Sur to find himself again, but his own thoughts and vices plague him, challenging his need to break free from the emotional and physiological grip he’s in.

    Big Sur Book Cover Picture
  24. 24

    Farm City

    Capturing the heart of the urban farming movement, Novella Carpenter writes of her experience taking a little plot of land in inner-city Oakland and transforming it into a meat and vegetable producing farm. At times moving and hilarious, Carpenter’s off-beat memoir will make you see our cities in a whole new light.

    Farm City Book Cover Picture
  25. 25

    The Circle

    The Circle is the world’s most powerful Internet company, dealing in personal emails, social media, banking, etc., and Mae Holland has just been hired to work there. Feeling like she’s won the lottery, she joins the ranks of its workers in the sprawling, perks-laden California campus, but it doesn’t take long before she starts to sense something is off in the open-concept, zero privacy tech company.

    The Circle Book Cover Picture
  26. 26

    The Golden Gate

    Vikram Seth’s beautifully lyrical tale captures the essence of California in the 1980s in this novel in verse. Following four different California “yuppies,” from Silicon Valley exec to rock musician, Vikram Seth’s poetic lines explore love, homosexuality, ambition, religion, and the chaotic energy of life.

    The Golden Gate Book Cover Picture
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