10 Quintessential Books That Reflect the Awesomeness of Orange County

Consider yourself well‑versed in the local literary canon? Use our book expert’s list of oh‑so‑O.C. stories to find out for sure.

BY - April 18, 2016

The writer’s duty is to see a place clearly and truly.  That sounds like a bad Hemingway imitation, but it’s the premise of this compilation of essential books.

Not a Top 10 or Best of, these are the stories shaping Orange County’s national image during the past four decades. What “The Catcher in the Rye” was to New York City, “Like the Red Panda” is to Irvine. “Dazzle” celebrates the county with the close attention more often lavished on Paris and other global capitals of glamour. “A Scanner Darkly” scans O.C., obsessively and grimly.OC Book_high res

More often than not, these books obliterate O.C. stereotypes through full and free use of fiction’s toolbox. Women (and men) in “Drift” are more flesh, blood, and soul than in “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” The Chinese-American family in “A Long Stay in a Distant Land” is as funny and recognizable as the Bluths of “Arrested Development.” Surf culture? Jeff Spicoli of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and the tanned demigods in “The Endless Summer” pale beside the surfers in “Tapping the Source.”

If there’s a unifying theme among all 10, it’s the humbling yet exalting awesomeness of the county’s natural splendor. Maybe that’s because the authors seem to have been writing against (in both senses) a rapidly changing landscape.

Lucky for us, then, we can turn the pages and see a wall of water, “its face glassy and smooth, streaked with white” from “Tapping the Source.” A comet‑shaped eucalyptus leaf spirals to earth in “Laguna Heat.” And there’s this view of the blue Pacific in “Savages”: “… fishing boats cruising the edge of the kelp beds, Catalina lying fat and lazy (a spoiled house cat) on the edge of the world. Nice nice.” Indeed.

  1. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (1977)
  2. Savages by Don Winslow (2010)
  3. Drift by Victoria Patterson (2009)
  4. A Long Stay in a Distant Land by Chieh Chieng (2005)
  5. Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel (2004)
  6. Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson (1990)
  7. Dazzle by Judith Krantz (1990)
  8. Laguna Heat by T. Jefferson Parker (1985)
  9. Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn (1984)
  10. The Rainy Season by James P. Blaylock (1999)