Nonfiction -- In vivid detail, Edward Jay Epstein's The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood (Random House, 2005) delves deep into the modern moviemaking machine with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the "sexopoly": the six mega-media companies that control motion picture entertainment (it's a real myth-buster). Love 'em or hate 'em, the saga of the L.A. Lakers makes for good reading in The Last Season: A Team In Search of Its Soul by Lakers coach Phil Jackson (Penguin Press, 2004). It's a pro-athlete opera of rape charges, spoiled superstars, team meltdowns, and public feuds. Former Crips gang member Sanyika Shakur documents his life of violence, drugs, and redemption growing up in the streets of South Central L.A. in Monster: Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member (Penguin Books, 1998). L.A. Exposed: Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels by Paul Young (St. Martin's Press, 2002) is a compelling compendium of dispelled myths, verified rumors, crime lore, conspiracy legends, tall tales, blatant lies, political scandal, and various other fascinating accounts of past and present Los Angeles. Equally titillating is Matt Maranian and Anthony Lovett's L.A. Bizarro: The Insiders Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd and the Perverse in Los Angeles (St. Martin's Griffin, 1997), 192 pages of murder sites, sex shops, curiosity shops, dive bars, and various other Southern California scurrility.
Fiction -- Since the book is almost always better than the movie, try a few of these novels that have been adapted into successful films: James Ellroy's epic crime novel L.A. Confidential (Mysterious Press, 1990); Joan Didion's profoundly disturbing Play It as It Lays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990); Joseph Wambaugh's gripping LAPD chronicles, such as The Onion Field (Dell, 1974); John Gregory Dunne's cynical and hard-boiled True Confessions (Bookthrift Co., 1977); Elmore Leonard's Hollywood-based bestseller Get Shorty (HarperTorch, 2002); and Michael Tolkin's absorbing mystery/thriller The Player (Grove Press, 1997). And, of course, anything by Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, The Lady in the Lake, and The Postman Always Rings Twice.