Libraries, how we love them—especially when they’ve got plenty of room and don’t cull the weird stuff that nobody has checked out since 1923!
Back in the good old days, earlier this month, we were still spending our Tuesdays at the Huntington Library, where we’d split the day between peering through a magnifying lens at unpublished negatives of Grand Central Market, reading snarky editorials on the foibles of the Golden Age Hollywood set in Rob Wagner’s Script magazine, and wandering the holy gardens.
These visits have kept us sane while battling to preserve Los Angeles landmarks from the relentless forces of what we’ve long suspected, and what is finally being proven, to be rampant public corruption.
But the Huntington, like so many wonderful places in Los Angeles, is now closed for the duration, and it’s right that it’s closed. We’ve all got to hunker down like bears in our dens and wait out the viral peril—but there’s no rule that says we have to be bored or zoned out while we wait.
The good folks at the Internet Archive have taken the nation’s temperature and written a marvelous and healing prescription: their enormous collection of scanned books, which in normal times is available for free check out, but with use limits, is now 100% free and always available. You can browse a selection of 1,428,426 volumes, and we bet at least 3,745 of them would be exactly what you’re looking for right now!
To get you started, we’ve curated a short list of L.A.-centric titles that will enhance your understanding of this improbable and baffling city, and get you familiar with this terrific digital resource.
But we must remind you that these books, however fascinating, are all written about a place very different from the Los Angeles of 2020. When we get through this public health crisis—and we will get though it—our shared history will be one of a metropolis that faced the greatest threat imaginable at the same time that the DOJ was taking down a big chunk of its corrupt city government.
If you put a twist this screwy into a script, they’d throw you out of the writer’s room. Yet it’s happening, right now, to us. And when the risk of disease has passed and the cancerous rot of corruption has been cut out of the halls of power, we’re going to need a new story to tell about what it means to be an Angeleno in 2020 and beyond.
Luckily, we’ve got nothing but time on our hands to study the past and imagine L.A.’s bright future and what each one of us can bring to the table.
So be well, have faith, be careful out there, and enjoy! And do share your recommendations for great reads that you find in the National Emergency Library in the comments below.
ESOTOURIC’S SELECTED TREASURES FROM THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY LIBRARY
Update 3/28/20: as this information has circulated, writers have complained that the Internet Archive’s loan policy change violates their copyright. Please use the links below responsibly, enjoy older, weirder, out of print offerings, and buy books by working writers.
• Piccolo’s Prank (1965) by Leo Politi: a rambunctious monkey runs amok on old Bunker Hill, and if you love this one, there are many Politi treats in the library
• Exploring California Byways in and Around Los Angeles; trips for a day or a weekend (1967) by Russ Leadabrand: a slow-paced guidebook to out-of-the-way places still worth seeking out, once the quarantine is lifted
• Historic California in Bookplates (1936, reprint edition) by Clare Ryan Talbot: reproducing the miniature works of art that identified treasured volumes as the property of notable Californian individuals and institutions
• La Reina : Los Angeles in three centuries (1929) published by Security Trust & Savings Bank: a collection of historic photographs used by the pioneer bank as part of its branding efforts
• The Los Angeles Guide Book (1972) by Annette Welles: because sometimes it’s fun to imagine we’re time traveling tourists, it’s a great reference if you happen to be writing a period mystery in quarantine, and who doesn’t want to know that Norms diners used to suck?
• L.A. Bizarro! The Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd and the Perverse in Los Angeles by Anthony R. Lovett and Matt Maranian (1997): an over-designed pre-internet marvel celebrating the weirdos, visionaries and benign hustlers who have been largely displaced under our pro-development City Council, but who we sincerely hope can bloom again in the new L.A. to come
• Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County by Leonard and Dale Pitt (1997): an essential companion for any dedicated Angeleno, packed with fun facts you never knew about familiar places
• Los Angeles, City of Dreams by Harry Carr (1935): the first great insider’s take on modern L.A., by a crack reporter who spent four decades chronicling her transformation from sleepy backwater to modern metropolis
• Bread & Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles by Paul Greenstein, Nigey Lennon and Lionel Rolfe (1992): the astonishing story of how the bombing of the L.A. Times building inspired the creation of a new kind of city in the desert, a site we will be visiting with Paul Greenstein on our likely rescheduled Desert Visionaries tour
• The Dream Come True: Great Houses of Los Angeles by Brendan Gill and Derry Moore (1980): a loving survey of domestic architecture historic, contemporary and celebrity, richly illustrated with original photographs, and including some rare lost gems
• A Slight Epidemic: The Government Cover-up of Black Plague in Los Angeles: What Happened and Why it Matters by Frank Feldinger (2008): recommended for obvious reasons, in the hope that we not repeat the mistakes of 1924