The Book on Florida

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Fifteen essential reads—10 myth-making works of fiction and five non-fiction classics—have helped to shape the legend of the Sunshine State.

Mississippi has William Faulkner, Missouri has Mark Twain, New Jersey has Philip Roth. Florida can’t claim one seminal writer as its literary soul. It can claim dozens.

From 500 years of Florida history, these are the 15 desert island books—the titles that tell the Sunshine State’s story with a wide, expansive arc en-compassing history and literature, entertainment and tragedy. The books trace Florida from a tropical paradise—or savage sty—through the coming of civilization, on through well-heeled decadence and the state’s place as America’s perennial petri dish of personal reinvention.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Published in: 1937

What’s the story? Hurston’s 1937 novel earned her a brief flurry of critical and commercial attention, after which she slowly subsided into a life on the literary and social margins. But her novel remains aflame with passionate attention to the language, behavior and sociology of the rural blacks that American society at large ignored for nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s the great novel of the Harlem Renaissance that just happens to take place in central Florida.

Excerpt: “Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear, and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods re-quire blood.”

To Have and Have Not

Author: Ernest Hemingway

Published in: 1937

What’s the story? It’s always slagged off with a slighting phrase on the order of “not one of Hemingway’s best novels,” which happens to be true. But in its portrayal of Key West as a haven for third-stage drunks, has-beens and never-wases, some of whom retain enough desire for one last stab at moral validation, To Have and Have Not set the matrix not only for the popular imagination’s idea of Key West but for the popular idea of much of Florida—a place for last chances and last stands.

Excerpt: “Death is like an old whore in a bar—I’ll buy her a drink, but I won’t go upstairs with her.”

For more on this story, pick up the January issue of Boca Raton magazine.