The best books about Florida tend toward what are arguably that state’s sleaziest features–its seedy backwaters (literal and other), its wayward characters, its activities of dubious legality. In other words, you won’t find a reflection of your retired grandparents’ condo anywhere in this literature (unless your grandparents are seriously exceptional examples of such).
If you’re heading to Florida, here are 10 all-time-best books about the state that will help you better appreciate the visit…
by Elmore Leonard
Before Quentin Tarantino adapted this book to film, moved it to LA and renamed it Jackie Brown, it took place in West Palm Beach and Miami, where Jackie is running dirty money into the U.S. from Jamaica. A lot of trouble ensues.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
This 1937 novel chronicles an early-20th century black woman’s navigation through three marriages in the challenging societal environments of central and southern Florida, including the town of Eatonville (near Orlando), where Hurston grew up.
by Karen Russell
Set largely in the Ten Thousands Islands just off the coast of southern Florida, this debut novel hugs the line between the fantastical and reality to mesmerizing effect, as the Bigtree Family’s alligator-based amusement park is run out of business by a newer and flashier park on the mainland.
The Orchid Thief
by Susan Orlean
This strangely charming account of a Florida man’s attempt to smuggle more than 200 rare orchids out of the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, in hopes of cloning them, comes from one of America’s smoothest essayists.
Pioneer, Go Home!
by Richard Powell
Powell based this 1959 novel on real-life events surrounding the building of a bridge from mainland Florida to Pine Island in the Gulf of Mexico and the squatters who took advantage of it. Fun fact: The novel was adapted to the screen in the form of the Elvis Presley movie Follow That Dream.
Rabbit at Rest
by John Updike
Here is the only book on the list that concerns itself with Florida retirees. Updike’s unforgettable Rabbit, after three previous books, has headed to Florida, and his trademark domestic troubles follow him.
by Joan Didion
This journey into the Cuban communities of Miami during their most harried, paranoid period is pessimistic, detached and full of the right details. In other words, it’s quintessential Didion.
by Russell Banks
Two characters head to Florida, one an American man who’s discontented with his comfortable, if unexciting, existence; the other a Haitian woman in search of simple opportunity. Their fates meet, to riveting effect.
by Charles Willeford
The Florida crime novel can be considered a genre unto itself, and Willeford was a recent master of it (more recent practitioners include Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry). Miami Blues is his best known work and the first one featuring Hoke Moseley, a Miami detective who in this case is investigating a quadruple homicide.
To Have and Have Not
by Ernest Hemingway
A tough Key West fisherman starts running contraband materials, including humans, between Cuba and the United States during the Great Depression. Things don’t turn out great.