Books about Florida
April 9, 2018 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I just got back from my first Florida vacation, and I'd like to prolong the magic with some reading material.

I do this thing when I travel where, after I return, I read obsessively about the place I've just been. I've read a bunch of stuff on Florida already, but it's not really scratching my itch.

Additionally, I have a thing for pop history/culture overviews like Simon Winder's Germania and Danubia, Michael Booth's Almost Nearly Perfect People, and Diccon Bewes's Swiss Watching. This is the kind of thing I'm looking for for Florida: an entertaining but informative survey that gives a sense of the place and the people who live there. I also read a lot of New Yorker-style longform, and recommendations for stuff like that is appreciated as well.

Some of the specific topics I'm interested in are the natural environment (especially native plants); the intersection of southern, Spanish, Caribbean, and snowbird culture; Art Deco architecture; general Florida Man tomfoolery; and the general sense of promise and possibility that seem synonymous with the state.

I was on the Gulf Coast specifically, but I'm interested in the whole state. I'm most interested in the twentieth century, although some stuff about the period of exploration and settlement would be nice.

I have already read Oranges by John McPhee, which is the closest thing I've yet found to what I'm looking for, but still not exact.

What can you recommend?
posted by kevinbelt to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Anything by Carl Hiassen ... it's fiction but incorporates "general Florida Man tomfoolery" pretty well.

Also Condominium by John D. MacDonald. Again, fiction but by someone who really knew the vibe of the state and used it to tell a good story.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:42 PM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
posted by Empidonax at 6:44 PM on April 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you like New Yorker-ish stuff, Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief is what you want.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

And anything by Carl Hiassen for the tomfoolety part.
posted by sudogeek at 6:47 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Finding Florida is essential.

Hiassen and J.D. MacDonald have been mentioned (the latter is pretty sexist stuff in a 1970s kind of way, but it does really feel like Florida).

Little known piece of the Gulf Coast is Ybor City Chronicles, a book about the pre-Castro cuban immigrants to Tampa.
posted by dis_integration at 8:41 PM on April 9, 2018

Not quite in the same vein as the other suggestions, but Jeff Vandermeer's book Annihilation (which the recent film was based on--but is quite different from) is actually set in.a fictional version of St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of FL, and it is very evocative of that part of Florida until it gets real weird--and even then, you can still taste the Florida coast.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:44 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Tropic of Cracker by Al Burt was once recommended to me by someone who'd been doing social science research in Florida.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:02 PM on April 9, 2018

Following rhiannonstone's "not quite in the same vein," Duma Key by Stephen King.
posted by Iron Carbide at 11:05 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Randy Wayne White writes the Doc Ford mystery series, protagonist is a marine biologist. Setting = Gulf coast of Florida. ↑↑↑↑↑/5

Tim Dorsey writes about Florida, but the setting is overshadowed by self-conscious silliness. ↑↑↑/5

Michael Gruber's Jimmy Paz series contains magic systems of Cuba and Africa/Haiti, set in Florida ↑↑↑↑↑/5

Charles Willeford's Hoke Mosely is a "Miami cop, near retirement, who's always taking out or putting in his dentures; he dines regularly on 711 Slurpees and hard-boiled eggs; and he has a strict moral code flexible enough for him to let someone get away with a hard-to-prove murder in exchange for a sublet on a house he badly needs. " ↑↑↑↑↑/5
posted by ohshenandoah at 12:29 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Peter Matthiessen's epic trilogy -Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone- tell the story of the "end of the Frontier" as it affected the Everglades and Thousand Islands, from 1880s to the 1960s. Based on true events, the trilogy may be Matthiessen's greatest work as a narrator. If it is too much to swallow as a trilogy, he condensed it down into one easily digestable volume as Shadow Country.
posted by zaelic at 2:32 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Miami, by Joan Didion:

"Miami is a 1987 book of social and political analysis by Joan Didion. Didion begins, "Havana vanities come to dust in Miami." The book is an extended report on the generation of Cubans who landed in exile in Miami following the overthrow of President Batista January 1, 1959 and the way in which that community has connected to America and American politics."
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:46 AM on April 10, 2018

I really enjoyed Craig Pittman's Oh, Florida!: How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country! It's not quite as irreverent as the title might suggest; although it will certainly provide some of the "Florida Man tomfoolery" that you're looking for, the book offers a surprisingly detailed exploration of the state's history, politics, and tourism, from the perspective of a native Floridian, that I found appealing.
posted by cheapskatebay at 6:33 AM on April 10, 2018

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an 1873 memoir about her time in Florida called Palmetto Leaves. I haven't read it, I've no idea whether it's grating to today's sensibilities, but it's online at the Internet Archive.

Wikipedia says: Because little was known about the region, the elements of its climate, citrus, water, and general ideas about illness and health, Stowe was possibly first among several authors and advertising schemes that portrayed Florida as an exotic place of natural wonders and powers that could rejuvenate frail health. What travel writers published on Florida were exaggerated claims, readily accepted by audiences hungry for escapist literature. Biographer Forrest Wilson considers the finished product, Palmetto Leaves—published in 1873—to be the first promotional writing about Florida ever.

(I know this because I also tried to find out more about Florida after a visit. I found a whole bunch of field guides as well if you're interested in that sort of thing. Florida Museum has natural history info as well.)
posted by glasseyes at 8:36 AM on April 10, 2018

Ha! Here's an old article from Slate: What makes Florida Weird? They had a whole series called Oh #Florida!
posted by glasseyes at 8:40 AM on April 10, 2018

Since you mentioned Florida, natural environment, and native plants I can't help but think of the books and short stories of the fascinating author and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas (a name that's been in the news a great deal this year attached to a tragedy completely unrelated to her and her accomplishments). Stoneman Douglas' writing features Florida prominently. She was also a feminist, a pioneer of the environmental movement, an advocate for the future of public libraries and proponent of responsible urban planning.

While she lived a long, impressive life (died at 108 years old in 1998) completing several books and serving as an outspoken citizen as "Defender of the Everglades" it's her book The Everglades: A River of Grass considered a "classic of environmental literature" that she's best known for having delivered to the world. Stoneman Douglas generated meaningful interest in preserving that delicate eco-system at a critical moment inspiring a new way of looking at what Florida is and could become.

Although she's primarily remembered for her tireless environmental advocacy there are also collections of short stories from her freelance career that may also be of interest to you.

If she's not your thing then The Barefoot Mailman by Theodore Pratt is short, interesting and classic Florida historical fiction with vivid descriptions of coastal land and waterways.
posted by mztreskiki at 10:30 AM on April 10, 2018

I marked glasseyes's answer as best because I started reading the Slate series today at work, and it's very good. I'll check out the other stuff soon.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2018

Fringe Florida, perhaps?
posted by dearwassily at 12:56 PM on April 10, 2018

I had a book “Tales of Old Florida” which covered the pre-20th century.

Maybe some Dave Barry, too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:51 PM on April 10, 2018

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