My cherished college, the University of Southern California, was gracious enough to feature me in their alumni magazine about my favorite books. I let it rip below, with humble apologies to so many brilliant writers — T.C. Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, John Irving, Mary Carr — that don’t make my little list. Give me an archipelago for my top 100 and then I’ll really grin.
Chip Jacobs is a Los Angeles-area author and journalist who still writes for a living because nobody will hire him to do anything else. His most recent book is the true-crime creeper The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman. Before that, he co-authored with William J. Kelly the social historySmogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Jacobs’ debut book,Wheeling the Deal, was a biography about his hard-living, quadriplegic Hollywood uncle. (Say that with ice in your mouth.) His reporting has appeared in the Los Angeles Times,LA Daily News, LA Weekly, New York Times, CNN, Southland Publishing and nada on Mars. His website is www.chipjacobs.com. Jacobs, a rabid Trojan and hack guitar player, has two children and is married to a USC public relations professor.
Five “Must Reads”
by Pete Dexter
How could someone like me, a USC-educated writer, not become intoxicated with this razor-sharp portrait of two go-getting newspaper reporters who free a guilty man (who produces a mother lode of ear wax to go with his sociopathic personality) en route to a Pulitzer? While Paris Trout and Deadwood made the world genuflect to his word-craft, Dexter’s morality play here captures people’s cores with extraordinary insight while employing muscular, Hemingway-esque word economy that I will aspire to, however long I sweat behind a keyboard. The ending of this book is a salty stunner.
by Mark Twain
Yeah, I know, Huckleberry Finn is Twain’s ultimate boy hero, a raft-bound desegregationist forged from a runaway river kid. But for me, it was his buddy Tom’s self-growth after his aunt punishes him for his endless shenanigans that was a literary wormhole. The title character’s adventures teach him (and us) how we eke into mistrust from youthful acts; and how a kid’s spit-shine conscience is the only honest thing in a world of adults’ snap judgments. Injun Joe made Tom and Huck see through that picket fence into a skin-conscious America, but Tom the manipulator can already see plenty — like Becky Thatcher’s ample heart. Besides, no one ever faked a funeral like Twain’s stars.
What Makes Sammy Run?
by Budd Schulberg
The next time anyone tells you that The Day of the Locust or You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again are the archetypal books about showbiz margin-living and ceaseless backstabbing, tell them to get their Schulberg on. Anybody in any facet of life who has encountered glad-handing, crocodile-smiling self-promoters who’d gladly steal your job, story ideas and innocence like it was a castoff pen has met Sammy Glick. But it’s the Mack Truck narrative by one of Sammy’s victims as the two wend to Hollywood from New York that does the impossible: It forces you to pity Sammy’s black heart as much as you censure his people-trampling penchant. All these decades later (it was published in 1941), Schulberg’s examination of Hollywood, anti-Semitism, hucksterism and self-loathing remains a masterpiece of the deplorable.
by Christopher Moore
If you howled in laughter at the organized religion skewering movieDogma for mocking the contrast between spirituality and spiritual suckers, you’ll adore Lamb. In Moore’s novel, the roughly twenty years between Jesus’ boyhood his higher purpose are imagined through Jesus’ best friend Biff, the “Ringo of disciples.” Jesus is boy God, Biff is all-boy, as the two traveling the world trying to learn the identities and motives of the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus in that animal-infested manger. On the road to enlightenment, Jesus and Biff spend a little time with prostitutes, prank Roman sentinels like Monty Python clowns, even throw right crosses in the ocean. Biff becomes a human vessel of wonder and ecclesiastical worry as his pal begins seeing that he can execute miracles (with practice), until it’s his fate not to for mankind. I learned volumes about Jesus’ real life and the contradictions of religion and friendship, all the while laughing so hard I just about ordered a pallet of Depends. Bar none, one of the funniest historical novels of all time.
The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury
Few authors — make that zero — have milked the sci-fi domesticity of humanoids living on another planet to explain the soulless, pre-programmed fascism of machines and the affliction of loneliness like the master writer who refused to ever own a car, lest more blood from technological madness stain the freeways. The Martian Chroniclesshares parallel themes with the supposedly genre-pioneering movie Avatar, except that the imagination of automated houses that continue operating long after their occupants have died — and the pining of natives for earthlings’ visits to infuse them with joy — says more about acclimation, loneliness and misguided belief than James Cameron could ever stutter. Time after time, the Martians invest their dreams in Earth, instead of looking inward for happiness — a lesson all of us on our warming, cynical rock could benefit from now.
In other news …
The local Foothills Paper gives my latest book, The Ascension of Jerry, a hearty reception (minus the lack of photos, that is.) Other reviews on the way.