100 Must-Read California Books

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Alison Peters

Staff Writer

Alison Peters surrounds herself with books, green things, animals and love. A Creative Writing M.F.A. holder with a day job that shall not be named, Alison is also working on a Masters in Library and Information Science. Currently cohabitating with her partner in the Northernmost outpost of San Francisco’s East Bay, she spends her spare time exercising her big dog so he won’t get annoyed with her, reading everything she can get her hands on, and then writing about it all. If you’re ever interested in discussing Harry Potter, Alison re-reads the series at least once a year, so drop her a line.

I’m a California girl, born and raised. So when I got the chance to list 100 MUST-READ books set in this fantastic golden state, I jumped.


100 Must-Read California Books


Some of the books on this list are classics; some, imho, should be.

Some aren’t set completely in California, but characters spend enough (relevant) time there that I gave them a pass.

All I can recommend are must-reads. (But I know there are more! Add to the list, please!)

Here they are-sorted by genre. Enjoy.

AS IF you could do otherwise.

Books Set in California – Fiction/Romance

Pasadena, David Eberhoff
Elsewhere, California, Dana Johnson
Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath / John Stienbeck
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Maya’s NotebookDaughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende
Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram Chandra
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
Dirt, David Vann
Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Less Than Zero, Brett Easton Ellis
Tales of the City (Series), Amistead Maupin
White Oleander, Janet Fitch
The Language of Flowers,Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth
Tripmaster Monkey, Maxine Hong Kingston
Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon
Innocents and OthersDana Spiotta
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Postcards From the Edge, Carrie Fisher
All the Little Live ThingsAngle of ReposeWallace Stegner
Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski
Brothers and Sisters, 72 Hour Hold, Bebe Moore Campbell
DivisaderoMichael Ondaatje
The Valley of the Moon, Jack London
Big Sur, Jack Kerouac
The Jane Austen Book ClubWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
Crescent, Diana Abu-Jaber
Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson
Beaches, Iris R. Dart
House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III
Changing Places, David Lodge
Family Album, (too many to count!Danielle Steele
California CaressRebecca Sinclair
A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
What Lies Between Us, Nayomi Munaweera
I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, June Jordan

Books Set in California – Short Stories/Novellas

Masha’allah and Other Stories, Mariah K. Young
Shopgirl, Steve Martin
Hot Water Music, Charles Bukowski
Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes
San Francisco Stories, Jack London
A Model World World and Other Stories, Michael Chabon

Books Set in California – Mystery/Noir/Supernatural

The Black DahliaThe Big Nowhere,  L.A. ConfidentialWhite Jazz, James Ellroy
Get Shorty, Be Cool, Elmore Leonard
Pulp, Charles Bukowski
L.A. Times, Stuart Woods
The Black Echo, The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde (The Harry Bosch Series), Michael Connelly
The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The Long Goodbye (Philip Marlowe Series), Raymond Chandler
No Rest for the Dead, David Baldacci & multiple authors
Devil in a Blue Dress, White Butterfly, Black Betty (Easy Rawlins Mysteries), Walter Mosley
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Sandman Slim, (Sandman Slim Series), Richard Kadrey
Ripper, Isabel Allende
Watchers, Dean Koontz
Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars Mystery Series), Rob Thomas

Books Set in California – Young Adult

Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
AdaptationMalinda Lo
Sweet Valley High (series), Francine Pascal
Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell
Everything Leads to You, Hold Still, Nina LaCour
Weetzie Bat (series), Francesca Lia Block
Paperquake, Kathryn Reiss
Fifteen, Beverly Cleary
Mexican White Boy, We Were Here, Ball Don’t Lie, Matt de la Peña
Strays, Jennifer Caloyeras

Books Set in California – Nonfiction

Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James Houston
Valencia, Michelle Tea
Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, Firoozeh Dumas
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston
The White Album, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Paula, Isabel Allende
Revolutionary Suicide, Huey P. Newtwon
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, Elaine Brown
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cameron Crowe
This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, Dave Eggers
Swimming with Maya, Eleanor Vincent
Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers