Reading The Sunshine State
March 29, 2009 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Looking for good novels that are set in Florida

I'll planning to go to Florida in May - flying to Miami, short trip to the Everglades (maybe), then 10 days of housesitting in Seminole and some day trips. I'm German and have never been to Florida (or the U.S.). I'd like to read stuff that helps me get to know and understand this part of the U.S.A. - i.e. novels with fitting descriptions of nature, culture, and social issues of Florida (contemporary or historic).

- I loved TC Boyle's "East is East", which is partly set in Florida.
- I know I will love Tom Wolfe's new book once it comes out (will be set in Miami)
- I will bring and reread "The Old Man and The Sea", although I don't particularly like Hemingway.

- favorite authors are: Tom Wolfe, TC Boyle, Nabokov, Melville, Donna Tartt

DO NOT LIKE SO MUCH, but could make exceptions:
- genre fiction
- "experimental" stuff that doesn't have a plot
- short stories, novellas.

Any ideas? I need to take at least six to ten novels, I'm a voracious reader...
posted by The Toad to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could always try an American classic, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Viel SpaƟ damit!
posted by Dukat at 7:37 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is non fiction, not fiction, but Joan Didion's book Miami fits the bill otherwise, especially with respect to social issues. If you like the reportage aspect of Tom Wolfe's fiction, you'll like Didion.

Harry Crews is a popular writer in Florida creative writing circles, but his work can be hard to find. It's worth the search, though.
posted by Prospero at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: Carl Hiaasen is consumate Florida. You could call it genreFic but I'd say it transcends.
The Orchid Theif by Susan Orlean is a good one - captures that Florida essence.
posted by degrees_of_freedom at 7:43 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah I was just about to post Carl Hiaasen but on preview degrees_of_freedom beat me to him.
posted by ephemerista at 7:45 AM on March 29, 2009

As far as I know, all of Carl Haissen's books are Florida Lit. Some of them are entertaining and humorous, and usually true to the characters and settings of the Sunshine state. I think Haissen is widely considered the voice of Florida today.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:46 AM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: I only got halfway through Stephen King's Duma Key; it was definitely Floridian enough to recommend it, despite him being a genre author. I stopped halfway through in part because nothing really all that horrific was happening in it, so it might fit the bill.

Also, the children's book The Yearling is set in Florida.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:48 AM on March 29, 2009

A Land Remembered is an excellent historical fiction and an easy read.
posted by alligatorman at 7:49 AM on March 29, 2009

(a spelling apology post: consummate, Thief. OOF!)
posted by degrees_of_freedom at 7:59 AM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: Peter Matthiessen's Watson trilogy (Shadow Country is a condensed version) is a wonderful look at Florida during the early days.
posted by youchirren at 8:05 AM on March 29, 2009

I also recommend Peter Matthiessen. Particularly fun to read when you're in or around the Everglades.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:09 AM on March 29, 2009

Carl Hiaasen's Sick Puppy really does a great job of capturing the unique weirdness of South Florida.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels are all based in Florida. They are somewhat genre fiction as they are all crime/mystery novels, but they are quite fun, quick reads.
posted by highfidelity at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

And it's not a book, but John Sayles's Sunshine State would be a good thing to watch.
posted by Naberius at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the literary end of noir/hardboiled: Ace Atkins' White Shadow, and most of the work of Charles Willeford (Miami Blues is probably the best starting point).
If you like Hemingway, and even if you don't like genre fiction, I'd encourage you to give these a try. I like Hiaasen a lot (Lucky You is among my favorites, but Tourist Season would be the natural starting point), but I don't know if he's what you're looking for. If he is, though, Elmore Leonard has a few novels set in Florida as well.
posted by box at 9:18 AM on March 29, 2009

Along with what box just said, if you find you like Carl, you might also enjoy Tim Dorsey. According to my wife, he's not quite as entertaining but close.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2009

I second the mention of "The Yearling," by Marjorie Rawlings.
posted by ragtimepiano at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2009

I second the mention of "The Yearling," by Marjorie Rawlings, a Pulitzer Prize winner.
posted by ragtimepiano at 11:44 AM on March 29, 2009

Seconding highfidelity's recommendation. The McGee novels bring some unexpected depth to them; MacDonald was a fairly keen social observer, often writing poignantly about Florida.
posted by shallowcenter at 11:54 AM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: You might like "Tropic of Night: A Novel" and "Night of the Jaguar" by Michael Gruber. The setting is Miami.
posted by lungtaworld at 12:11 PM on March 29, 2009

About a third of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Shadows on the Hudson takes place in Miami in the mid-twentieth century - it gives a pretty good look at what south Florida was probably like then, especially for visiting Yankees.
posted by timetoevolve at 2:35 PM on March 29, 2009

I second a thousand times the Travis Mcgee books!
posted by Redhush at 5:33 PM on March 29, 2009

Nnnnthing Hiaasen!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:43 PM on March 29, 2009

Best answer: I really liked Continental Drift by Russell Banks. There's a quote in there somewhere about how Florida is where dreams go to die - that's pretty much the theme of the book.
posted by drmarcj at 8:03 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, Mefites! All suggestions were excellent, without exception. I just marked the ones I'm going to order right away :-) (And I've also put that movie on my list, Naberius.)

Further suggestions are welcome, of course...
posted by The Toad at 1:21 AM on March 30, 2009

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