In the summer of 2016, I went camping in the Keys. To get there, I drove more than six hours down the state from my home in Central Florida. I watched the landscape change from the temperate pine forests of my home, to the Everglades’ rivers of grass, to the bright blue waters I hopped between islands in the Keys. I love my state, seriously. (I even won a grant in college to write short stories about Florida!) This trip – despite the incredible heat and swarms of no-see-ums (the Devil’s own minions) – rekindled my love for my literary home.
Obviously, since this was my area of research in college AND I know a good chunk of the novelists in the state (one of whom teaches in my MFA and just got a sterling review in the NYT), this list was killer difficult to make. So these aren’t necessarily the “best” Florida novels. There are too many good ones. This is a list of the Florida novels that if you haven’t read them, you’re really missing out.
- The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – A boy adopts an orphaned deer in old North Florida. This isn’t beachy, Miami South Florida. This is the backwoods, the real deal, and if you didn’t know that was a big part of Florida, you need to read this.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – When I first read this book in high school, I had trouble understanding the dialect. Then my dad told me that it was set less than an hour away from where I lived and grew up. That blew my mind!
- Hoot by Carl Hiaasen – Hiaasen is a prolific writer. This may not be his best book, but it is the first one of his that I read. The major reason I included this one is that I read it in middle school, and then Hiaasen visited us. He actually talked to me, and he was really nice! Most people don’t treat 11-year-olds like they’re people. Hiaasen did. So he and this book hold a special place in my childhood.
- Alas Babylon by Pat Frank – Have you ever read a post-apocalyptic novel set near your home town? This one is set half an hour from me, and it freaked me out. Oh hey, the Soviets bombed Orlando and Jacksonville. Nobody panic.
- Paper Towns by John Green – How dare I include John Green, right? But I have to. Green portrayed modern Orlando so well, it’s obvious he grew up here. Everyone wants
to come to Florida, but the local teenagers just want to escape.
- To Have and To Have Not by Ernest Hemingway – I can’t forget Papa. I just visited Key West for the first time and petted a bunch of incredibly chill six-toed cats.
- A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith – A family saga that stretched the length of Florida history. Another must-read to get a true view of the state.
- The Last Train to Paradise (Nonfiction) by Les Standiford – I swear I’ve met Standiford, but I can’t remember where. It’s a great book nonetheless. Without Henry Flagler and his East Coast Rail Road, Florida might be largely uninhabited. He even donated the money to build Flagler Hall which houses my university’s English department.
- Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen – This tome won the National Book Award in 2008. According to Goodreads, “Shadow Country traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color, including the black and Indian inheritors of the archaic racism that, as Watson’s wife observed, “still casts its shadow over the nation.”
- Everglades, River of Grass (Nonfiction) by Marjory Stoneman Douglas – A sweeping history and ecology of the Everglades. Douglas is the one who named it the river of grass. It is one of the most important and essential biomes in the state, a barometer for Florida’s ecological health, and unfortunately it’s being destroyed.
What are your favorite Florida books? Comment and help me find my next great read! 😀