I have been developing this list for thirty years. It began when I was teaching about California in adult education programs and was inspired by Southwest Classics and California Classics (both now out of print) by Lawrence Clark Powell, long-time librarian at UCLA.

I immediately set out to acquire, then read, everything on Powell's list. I found that some were hard to find and a few just didn't appeal to me. But it set me to thinking, and researching, and gradually I developed my own list. Several of my adult students immediately set out to read everything on my list (originally 25 books).

The next generation of this list came many years later when I began teaching the geography field class at UC Berkeley. I have always felt that a well written work of fiction can provide insights into landscapes and regional cultures as well as, and sometimes even better than, non-fiction. When I was a student at Berkeley we were always assigned to read one or two works of fiction as part of any regional geography class.

I dusted off the old list, added a few titles and dropped a few, and each year I reviewed it. My field class students were assigned to each read one book from the list, then give a brief oral report on it to the group. Often these reports were given while relaxing in the shade during lunch, or around the campfire after dinner. Most of the students enjoyed what they had read and I like to think they might now be working their way through the other titles on the list.

The list is not strictly literature, in the high-brow sense, many of the works are more about entertainment than edification. Many were bestsellers in their day and some of them played significant roles in the politics and history of California. Several were made into memorable movies. Following Powell's lead I have included poetry and personal history along with fiction.

Many people are surprised when they realize how rich the literature of California really is. Some of the authors I have included were California natives whose life work was intimately entwined with the people and places of the state - John Steinbeck being the leading example. Others merely passed through California and found enough inspiration for one book - Evelyn Waugh for instance.

At one point this list had grown to around a hundred titles, with multiple entries for some authors, and a few books that I had not read. I have decided it is best to limit the main list to one book per author (in exceptional cases two) and omit anything I have not yet read. This list is supplemented by pages on specific authors, from this list or in other categories (e.g. mystery writers).

The list currently consists of 40 books by 38 authors.


Mary Austin
The Land of Little Rain
Richard Brautigan
Trout Fishing in America, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar
William H. Brewer
Up and Down California in 1860-1864
Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep
Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe (Dame Shirley)
The Shirley Letters: From the Calfornia Mines, 1851-1852
Richard Henry Dana
Two Years Before the Mast
Joan Didion
Play It As It Lays: A Novel
Colin Fletcher
The Thousand-Mile Summer
William Gibson
All Tomorrow's Parties
Dashiell Hammet
The Maltese Falcon
Bret Harte
Bret Harte's Gold Rush: Outcasts of Poker Flat, The Luck of Roaring Camp, Tennessee's Partner, and Other Favorites
Aldous Huxley
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
Helen Hunt Jackson
Ramona
Robinson Jeffers
Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems
Jack Kerouac
The Dharma Bums
Ken Kesey
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Clarence King
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada
Theodora Kroeber
Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America
Jack London
Martin Eden
William L. Manly
Death Valley in '49: The Autobiography of a Pioneer
Armistead Maupin
28 Barbary Lane (the first three volumes of Tales of the City)
Johnston McCulley
The Mark of Zorro
John Muir
My First Summer in the Sierra
Walter Nordhoff
The Journey of the Flame
Frank Norris
The Octopus: A Story of California
McTeague
William Saroyan
The Human Comedy
Upton Sinclair
Oil! A Novel
Gary Snyder
Mountains and Rivers Without End
Wallace Stegner
Angle of Repose
John Steinbeck
Cannery Row
The Grapes of Wrath
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Silverado Squatters
George Stewart
Earth Abides
Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club
Mark Twain
Roughing It
Jeanne Wakatsuki and James D. Houston
Farewell to Manzanar
Evelyn Waugh
The Loved One
Nathaniel West
The Day of the Locust
Tom Wolfe
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test


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