2020 Black Friday Gift Guide with 10 Orange County Must-Read Books

Looking for gifts that show off your savvy, well-read style or just something to read yourself instead of spending hours browsing Black Friday sales for a deal on something you don’t really need? Our gift guide of books is perfect for anyone on your list, and every purchase supports local bookstores, as Bookshop’s mission is to disrupt the disrupter (you know, that trillion dollar ecommerce site).

OCExplore launched its Bookshop store recently, and these ten Orange County-inspired selections are paired with a local background with which to appreciate them all the more, with the intent to get you back to (or perhaps for the first time) reading voraciously.

You might be ready to read but not sure what to start with, so we’ve put together a list of can’t-go-wrong, definitely interesting, and plenty absorbing tales here that you will want to read all over OC (and a few LA) towns.

  1. Orange County by Gustavo Arellano

Where to read it: In downtown Santa Ana, near Alta Baja Market, which sources food and products from California, the Southwest and Mexico.

Part memoir and part Orange County history, Arellano’s book explores the lesser-known and less savory history of Orange County and he’s got the credentials to do it, as he has built a career reporting around Orange County. His retelling of the migration from very specific towns and villages in Mexico to specific neighborhoods in Orange County (like his native Anaheim) was one of my favorite parts of the book.

2. The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

Where to read it: You’ll feel like you are in the book on the sand in Laguna Beach after ordering from Coyote Grill, even though it’s set in more of a fictional Malibu Canyon area.

The best introduction to T.C. Boyle is this novel, which is one of those perfect tragicomedies that has all the Southern California elements: the “right” kinds of people and the less lucky immigrants who are invisible until they are not, the real estate-obsessed and the perfect capture of the canyons and their ecology.

3. Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

Where to read it: Stroll through any quiet suburban street in Orange County and you’ll be strolling a street that’s been affected by opioids, whether it is the residents, a sober living or rehab facility included among the homes.

Whether you know someone who has dealt with opioid addiction, have dealt with it personally or witnessed its effect around you, we can’t talk about Orange County or even America of the last three decades without talking about what opioids have done to the soul of all of us. The tale is far from over, even though reporting on the Rehab Riviera ended in overdose for one of the people profiled, and a big settlement of $8.3 billion has been approved for Purdue along with criminal charges against the company. Dream Land is one of several books that treat both this particular wave of opioid addiction deftly as well as the reality of substance abuse. For follow-up reading, check out Dopesick and Fentanyl, Inc.

4. Moneyland: The Inside Story of the Crooks and Kleptocrats Who Rule the World by Oliver Bullough

Where to read it: Off the carousel at South Coast Plaza, admiring the throngs of people laden with bags from Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Dior and wondering, like that guy from TikTok, what do these people do for a living?

We think we know the realities of the rich, because we’ve seen a Kardashian or Real Housewife show or two (or a hundred). But of course, reality is much more twisted than a reality show can capture and Moneyland is like a reality show of the uber-rich on steroids and a great read for those of who love to read about financial tomfoolery and a little mass global corruption.

5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

None of these books are recently published and I loved this book when it came out in 2015, and it’s just as perfect today as it was then. This is part-memoir, part scene-setting and all about how the writer thinks, sees and processes the world and it’s beautifully written.

6. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf has a long and interesting history, but this book was her first, and in many ways remains relevant (while some sections have become outdated), this book is a useful paradigm shift for anyone struggling to comprehend the sheer volume of Botox, fillers and injectables pumped into Orange County residents on a daily basis.

7. The Myth of the American Dream by D.L. Mayfield

Orange County embodies the American Dream, it has pockets of diversity but is also served by its whiteness, it has areas of affordability surrounded by both stealth wealth and legions of those flaunting money they may or may not have. People in LA are quick to dismiss Orange County, but like every place, it’s not a stereotype, we all live here, but it can have a type. Also, dismissive people of LA, guess what, not everyone wants to live jammed 800 people per square foot with what passes for a park which is just a grassy patch with a water fountain and a concrete wall that someone once played handball on. Come on down when you’re tired of living in your car because you’re always sitting in traffic.

8. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

Orange County’s beach cities but especially San Clemente and Huntington Beach are surf capitals embedded in surf history and Finnegan’s book is a great gift for surfers and anyone who isn’t a big reader but more likely to seek their adrenaline in the water, on a board or jumping from a plane.

9. Surfing with Sartre by Aaron James

Check out local professor Aaron James’ philosophical follow-up to Assholes: A Theory.

10. The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

Another cautionary tale of the perils of the American Dream, Barbarian Nurseries is your read if you’ve seen the multilayered class struggles in Los Angeles and Southern California in person and can enjoy the ring of truth in Tobar’s haunting fiction.