Grab a shady hat and follow us into an Old Florida summer, full of the simple, nostalgic pleasures that attracted us all here in the first place. Robin Draper, whose “Authentic Florida” blog has garnered thousands of followers, leads the way, scouting out natural discoveries, adventures and historic treasures near and far in "Wish You Were Here." I can’t wait to try some of them myself, from a scallop hunt in the Panhandle to a weekend at a little Gulf-front motel right here at home; and when I need a break from all the activity, I plan to curl up in a beach chair with a classic Florida read. To decide what books to put in my beach bag, I called on some of my favorite Florida writers. Here are their enthusiastic suggestions.
I’ve seen an iconic photograph of the legendary Totch Brown, complete with an alligator slung over his shoulders, but I didn’t know he had written an autobiography: Totch, A Life in the Everglades (1993). Randy Wayne White, whose best-selling “Doc Ford” thrillers are set on Sanibel Island, says it’s one of his all-time favorites, by an author with “the truest of true Florida voices”—a “decorated veteran of WWII, a crabber, commercial fisherman, song writer and a pot-hauling smuggler who went to federal penitentiary rather than testify against his neighbors.”
John Jakes loves the classic Condominium (1977) by John D. MacDonald. “Supposedly [Sarasota novelist] Mackinlay Kantor challenged MacDonald at the Liar's [the Liar’s Club, a long-running gathering of local authors] to write something that would be bigger and more successful than John D.’s crime fiction,” says Jakes. The book, about a hurricane hitting a Florida town that feels like Sarasota, “holds up splendidly today,” says Jakes. “Its theme remains relevant: relentless overbuilding while the tourist bureaus yammer for more visitors! more visitors! Come back, John D.—we need you.”
Craig Pittman, the award-winning Tampa Bay Times environmental writer, chose a book about another “horrific” Florida hurricane—Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). I love how Craig described getting lost in the novel, that blissful state every book lover will recognize. “I read this book while sitting in an auto repair shop waiting for the mechanic to get around to fixing my brakes. Hours went by and I didn't notice, because I was so wrapped up in the story,” he says. “Recently my son read it for his 10th-grade English class, and named it his favorite required-reading book of the year, which gives me hope for the future.”
I’ve been teased for reading the same book over and over again, so I was happy to hear that Tim Dorsey, author of the hilarious Florida crime series featuring serial killer Serge A. Storms, does the same thing—at least when it comes to Ninety-two in the Shade (1973) by Thomas McGuane. “I've probably read it four times. At first I loved it because it's a great story about fishing in Key West,” Dorsey says. “But it's also all about inventive language and inspired writing. You can practically read it like a book of poetry—just grab it off the shelf and go to a random page for a few paragraphs of appreciation.”
Randy Noles, who heads the division of our company that publishes Winter Park and Orlando Life magazines, also happens to be a great writer. His Fiddlers’ Curse, a history of the song Orange Blossom Special, was adapted into a documentary film that aired on PBS and the Ovation network. Not surprisingly, he chose Palmetto Country (1942), which grew out of the WPA’s work on folklore and oral history. “Stetson Kennedy traveled the back roads and byways of the state, hauling a bulky tape recorder and capturing anecdotes, tall tales and work songs from a cross-section of colorful characters,” Randy explained. “This book captures raw, real, rural Florida as it was before strip malls and suburbs.”
This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine. Like what you read? Click here to subscribe. >>