Reader’s Choice: 14 More Books Every Floridian Should Have
Our first list stirred some controversy, so we made another—curated entirely by you.
Back in June, when we were filling our shelves with quarantine reads and wondering when life might go back to “normal,” our editors shared our list of 24 books every Floridian should have, from nonnegotiable classics like Their Eyes Were Watching God to critically acclaimed new releases like The Nickel Boys. Almost as soon as this story hit our homepage, our inboxes were flooded with readers’ comments and suggestions for favorites we missed. While it’s nearly impossible to create a completely exhaustive list—it’d probably break the internet—we decided to pull together a new one curated entirely by our readers. Christopher K. said it best on Facebook: “Only 24 books?” Well, since “normal” doesn’t seem to be returning any time soon, here are 14 more books to read in the safety of your own home—or on a socially distant beach day.
By Patrick D. Smith
The most popular suggestion, A Land Remembered, follows three generations of the MacIveys, from 1858 to 1968. The family’s journey from dirt-poor country folk to wealthy real-estate tycoons is a lesson in human greed and environmental protection that weaves the MacIveys’ storyline into Florida’s history. It’s undoubtedly a classic, but does that automatically make it a must-have? Our readers seem to think so.
BY GILBERT KING
We got lots of side-eye for our inclusion of Gary Corsair’s book on the Groveland Four over this illuminating bestseller by Gilbert King. Angela B. said, “One of the ten best nonfiction books I’ve EVER read is Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. So, can the list be 25 things?” The 2013 Pulitzer Prize–winning book digs into the FBI’s unredacted Groveland files to chronicle the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall’s defense of the Groveland boys, who were arrested for allegedly raping a white woman in 1949. The boys were found guilty, and weren’t officially pardoned until 2019, 70 years after the racial injustice occurred.
BY JOHN D. MACDONALD
This series from the 1960s by American mystery author John D. MacDonald landed in our suggestion box several times. The novels take place in Fort Lauderdale and follow the “salvage consultant” Travis McGee, who makes a living tracking down stolen goods for those dealing in lucrative but illegal matters.
BY LOREN G. “TOTCH” BROWN
This book explores the life of an Everglades native with energy and touching authenticity. Born in Chokoloskee in 1920, Totch Brown recounts tales of alligator poaching, commercial fishing and drug smuggling in the expansive marsh. If you like this title, reader Blake F. also recommends Gladesmen: Gator Hunters, Moonshiners, and Skiffers by Glen Simmons and Laura Ogden.
BY ROBB WHITE, ILLUSTRATED BY RALPH RAY
“I was sad to see The Lion’s Paw was not on the kids list! I burst into tears when I found a newly published copy in a wonderful book store in Micanopy,” said Sharon A., whose fourth grade teacher read the book to her many years ago. Join three out-of-place kids as they sail the dangerous Florida coast, learn to count on others and find where they belong.
BY JACK E. DAVIS
Reader Sandy N. was surprised that this Pulitzer Prize–winning nonfiction book by a University of Florida history professor didn’t make an appearance, so we’re here to right our wrong. It recalls the time of Florida’s conquistadors and journeys to modern oil-drilling fiascos, spanning the Gulf’s history. Davis, applauded for his lyrical writing, mesmerizes readers with the little-known influence the Gulf of Mexico has had on state politics, economics and the environment.
BY THOMAS MCGUANE
Thomas Skelton is tired of burnouts and junkies. He travels home to the crystal-clear waters of Key West for a fresh start as a charter fishing captain, but finds new enemies waiting for him—ones who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Fred G. said he’d put the thrilling Ninety-two in the Shade high up on the must-read list—“Though maybe because it recalls a certain time and a certain craziness as well as a certain place in Florida I like to remember.”
BY KRISTEN ARNETT
This New York Times bestseller was suggested by @alisondick on Instagram. Written by Orlando resident Kristen Arnett, this darkly comedic look at love and loss follows Jessa-Lynn Morton as she holds together her family (and their taxidermy business) after her father’s suicide. Don’t let the hot pink flamingo on the cover fool you: this turbulent debut novel is an examination of grief, sexuality and unresolved emotional trauma in a sometimes uncomfortably wacky setting.
BY CHARLES WILLEFORD
Some of our readers discussed making their own lists, including Diane D., who said, “My list will have one of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley books.” Miami police officer Hoke Moseley finds himself in all sorts of trouble in this four-book series. The rebellious detective isn’t exactly a shining example of a law enforcement officer, but we somehow find ourselves rooting for him every step of the way.
BY WILLIAM MCKEEN
Where Florida ends, hundreds of artists, writers and musicians find their beginning. The alcohol, drugs and erotic nature of 1970s Key West that inspired a creative crowd are chronicled in short, true stories in McKeen’s book, which Bob K. thought “would look good on that list.”
BY CHRISTOPHER KNOWLTON
Here’s another one for you history buffs, recommended by reader Doug B. This book takes you back to the economic boom of the 1920s, when business tycoons and celebrities headed for the dazzling new vacation spots on the South Florida coast and millions of people followed. Of course, we know now the glamour of the Roaring ’20s, exemplified in Miami, Coral Gables and Boca Raton, wasn’t made to last.
LAST TRAIN TO PARADISE: HENRY FLAGLER AND THE SPECTACULAR RISE AND FALL OF THE RAILROAD THAT CROSSED AN OCEAN
BY LES STANDIFORD
Suggested by author and Flamingo contributor Craig Pittman—whose newest book Cat Tale was featured on our original list—Last Train to Paradise covers the work of Henry Flagler, the businessman who helped build much of Florida and befriended John D. Rockefeller. Flagler dreamed of something unheard of, a railroad crossing from Key West to mainland Florida over 153 miles of choppy ocean waters. His fortune and determination got it done. For its 22-year lifespan, the Overseas Railroad was known as the eighth wonder of the world.
DREAM STATE: EIGHT GENERATIONS OF SWAMP LAWYERS, CONQUISTADORS, CONFEDERATE DAUGHTERS, BANANA REPUBLICANS, AND OTHER FLORIDA WILDLIFE
BY DIANE ROBERTS
“I would have included Dream State by Diane Roberts. It’s a thrilling ride through Florida’s history,” Sue M. said. Another fabulously received work of nonfiction, this memoir of sorts by journalist and Flamingo columnist Diane Roberts reveals her family’s history of stealing land and enslaving people in Florida, all while making light of our sometimes not-so-sunshiney state.
BY BEATRIZ WILLIAMS
@Sandalsuze didn’t have too many qualms about our list, but she did want to add this 2018 novel by Beatriz Williams. The book follows Virginia Fortescue’s escape from her onerous past to Prohibition-era Florida. Fortescue experiences love and, for the first time, freedom from the oppression of her New York family among the speakeasies and suspicious, alluring figures of South Florida.
We’ll leave you with one final suggestion from Phil A., who said “I can think of one more every Floridian should have….” The Official Florida Driver License Handbook should be required reading. Phil, we couldn’t agree more.
Missed our first editor’s choice list? Check it out here, and let us know your thoughts.