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June 18, 1996|NONA YATES

Los Angeles may be the dream factory, as well as the cell phone and fax capital, but the story of this place and its inhabitants has best been told in the written word. And L.A. remains the nation's biggest book market.

We asked some leading observers of literary Los Angeles to recommend the essential reading--their personal top five books for students of the city. (Honorable mention to the Thomas Guide, "undoubtedly the most essential book for understanding Los Angeles," says Larry Mantle.)

Owner Margie Ghiz and the staff of Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica

City of Quartz, Mike Davis, 1990

"[Davis] gives the history of Los Angeles to explain why things are the way they are. If you want to know Los Angeles, you have to read this book."

20th Century Los Angeles, Norman Klein and Martin Schiesl, Eds., 1990

"Essays on different aspects of Los Angeles, on Asian Pacific Angelenos, African Americans, mobsters, cops. This broadens the look at L.A."

Ethnic L.A., Zena Pearlstone, 1990

"Like a yellow pages into 90 nationalities in L.A.--where they live, what their newspapers are, churches, markets--a pocket encyclopedia."

Sex, Death, and God in L.A., David Reid, Ed., 1992

"Written right before the [1992] uprising, a look at Los Angeles from different perspectives and points of view."

No Crystal Stair: African Americans in the City of Angels, Lynell George, 1992

"Vignettes of Los Angeles that you wouldn't normally think about. She talks about her family, the Creole community, what it is like to live in L.A."

Carolyn See, author, most recently of "Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America"

Day of the Locust, Nathanael West, 1939

For its "vision of seedy Hollywood and the fiery apocalypse."

The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler, 1949

A "sense of seductive corruption."

Brothers and Sisters, Bebe Moore Campbell, 1994

"A balanced and measured look at racial stress and possible reconciliation in Los Angeles."

Dirty Eddie, Ludwig Bemelmans, 1947

"It suggests that Los Angeles is the most wonderful city in the world."

Golden Days, Carolyn See, 1987

"Suggests that no matter what the disaster, the people who live here can triumph."

Larry Mantle, host of the daily program "Airtalk" on KPCC-FM, 89.3

City of Angles: A Drive-by Portrait of Los Angeles, Al Martinez, 1996

"The Times columnist describes aspects of Los Angeles life by way of personal experience."

Ethnic L.A., Zena Pearlstone, 1990

"Offers still-current background and profiles of Los Angeles' many immigrant groups, from holidays to favored foods, cultural expectations to rates of assimilation."

Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery, Katherine Mader and Marvin J. Wolf, 1986

"Combination guidebook and history of notable local crime scenes."

Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles, Raphael J. Sonenshein, 1993

"Richly details the history of coalition politics in our city and offers great context for explaining how we got where we are."

Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow, Merry Ovnick, 1994

"Explores [the cultural history of Los Angeles] through examining our city's houses. It sounds limiting, but is quite effective in conveying the complexity of local life and work."

John Gabree, owner of L.A. (The Bookstore) in Santa Monica

Southern California: An Island on the Land, Carey McWilliams, 1946

"Fifty years old and still the one must-read."

City of Quartz, Mike Davis, 1990

"If you can have two books on a desert island, you'd want this dense political take . . . many readers will complain it'll take them the rest of their lives to read anyway."

Romancing the Southland, Bob Badal, 1994

"An encyclopedic guide to the most interesting places to visit in Southern California."

Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow, Merry Ovnick, 1994

"Tells the L.A. story using the waves of domestic architecture as the peg."

Ask the Dust, John Fante, 1939

"Anything and everything by [him] and mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald."

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