Book Lovers Day, on Aug. 9, is a good time to check out some offerings by Long Beach authors, which is quite a huge crowd these days.
A story about Long Beach authors? How about a story about Long Beachers who haven’t written a book. There’s a guy who lives around the corner from me (weird that there’s one so close) who hasn’t written a book, and you have to wonder why. Doesn’t have any hobbies? Isn’t he competent at anything? Doesn’t he have a story about a bunch of guys who load up into a VW van and set off on a series of wacky escapades and high jinx in Baja? Does he not speak/write English?
I understand he might not have any contacts at Simon & Schuster or Alfred A. Knopf, but you don’t need a high-profile New York-based publisher anymore. You could always use a specialty publisher (The History Press doesn’t seem to be overly discerning in what it will publish; it’s done three of my books) or a local publisher (Brown Paper Press, based in Long Beach, published my favorite and literally last book).
With ease of publishing comes books by everyone in town: about their exploits in the war, about their grandmother’s recipes; about their memories of growing up in a small town in a faraway state; about their amazing life.
So, when writing about notable Long Beach authors, I’m forced to be judicious, and, sadly there will some left out. We apologize for all the omissions.
The first book with Long Beach references by a Long Beach writer that I remember hearing about was written by John Leonard, a particularly intelligent native son who grew up here and attended Wilson High, Harvard University and UC Berkeley. Although a liberal, he began his career at William F. Buckley’s National Review, working with writers like Joan Didion and Garry Wills. He became a fairly omnivorous critic, sharing his opinions in publications as disparate as The New York Times Book Review (where he was executive editor at the age of 31) to TV Guide.
In 1968, while still in his 20s, Leonard wrote a book set in Long Beach called “Crybaby of the Western World,” a strange and zany work of speculative fiction in which the city was termed “a kind of strip-mining of the soul.”
The book is sadly out of print now, as is the author, who died in 2008.
But “Crybaby” is merely the first I remember. Moving into the 1970s, I became acquainted with the works of John Fante, who wasn’t a Long Beach boy in the strictest sense, but he did spend a lot of time here while writing his books about the fictional/autobiographical Arturo Bandini, including “Ask the Dust,” in which he famously describes his experience during the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake. He attended Long Beach City College and is in that college’s Hall of Fame.
Sticking for a moment with 1933, that was the year James Hilton wrote his blockbuster novel “Lost Horizon,” which, for trivia fans, was the first title published by Pocket Paperbacks, earning the book the honor of being known as the one that began the paperback revolution.
Hilton spent most of his life outside of Long Beach, but he lived his final decade in a bungalow on Argonne Avenue, just south of Livingston Drive in Belmont Shore, where he wrote his last four books, including “So Well Remembered,” one of six of his novels to be made into a movie, and “Morning’s Journey,” about the film business. He died in 1954 in Long Beach’s Seaside Hospital.
Upton Sinclair is another famous writer who spent time as a Long Beach resident. The author of “The Jungle” lived in a lot of nice places in Southern California where he spent much of his later life, including Pasadena and Beverly Hills. In Long Beach, he lived on the beach side of 58th Place on the Peninsula in the late 1920s. Here, he published his book, “Oil!” which inspired the 2007 Daniel Day-Lewis film, “There Will Be Blood.”
Richard Bach exploded onto the literary scene in 1970 with his brisk (less than 10,000 words) story “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” about a bird who flew for the pure joy of flying rather than for the mere functional task of catching food. The book, published by the Cal State Long Beach grad in 1970, sold more than a million copies in one year and later was turned into a film by Paramount, with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.
Bach was a longtime aviator and took his first flight at the age of 15 when his mother, Ruth Bach was running for Long Beach City Council. She became the city’s first woman councilperson and, in 1957, the Ruth Bach Neighborhood Library on Bellflower Boulevard was opened.
Jan Burke is one of the city’s favorite mystery writers. Her Irene Kelly Mystery series, which includes 1999 Edgar-winning “Bones,” are set in the fictional town of Las Piernas. Burke told a reporter, “I rob Long Beach constantly for settings in my books. I took a little of Venice and Laguna, scooped them up and dropped them on Long Beach—that’s Las Piernas.”
Tyler Dilts’ Long Beach isn’t a mash-up. His four Long Beach Homicide novels are excellent police procedurals that are liberally adorned with real Long Beach locations. The books (“A King of Infinite Space,” “The Pain Scale,” “A Cold and Broken Hallelujah,” and “Come Twilight”) feature LBPD’s Danny Beckett and make for great reading for Long Beachers, who can follow Beckett through Belmont Heights, around Rainbow Harbor, stopping for the Rancher omelet at Potholder Too, perusing the stacks at the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library and picking a few things up at La Bodega Market No. 4. Talk about putting the reader in the midst of the story. Dilts’ latest book is a stand-alone mystery. Though his Danny Beckett is in it a bit, “Mercy Dogs” has as its central characters Ben Shepard, a retired Long Beach Police officer who is taking care of his father who is suffering from dementia.
Wendy Hornsby is another Edgar award-winning author who has written a number of books, most notably the 10-book Maggie MacGowen series, about the cases followed by the investigative filmmaker. The most recent, “Disturbing the Dark,” was published in 2016.
Finally, if you want to know absolutely everything about Long Beach, you’ve gotta go with former Long Beach librarian and historian Claudine Burnett, who, though she lives in Huntington Beach, has written at least 10 thoroughly researched and very readable books about the city, including “Haunted Long Beach,” “Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales,” “Fighting Fear: Long Beach in the 1940s” and her latest, published in July, “The Red Scare, UFOs and Elvis: Long Beach Enters the Atomic Age,” in which Burnett looks at local UFO encounters, mysterious submarine, the old Cinnamon Cinder nightclub, car club culture and a few intriguing murder yarns.
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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