When it comes to reading and literary culture, it’s no secret that South Florida gets short shrift from snoots up north. At least once a year The New York Times sends somebody down here to write an article that condescendingly pats us on the head for being something other than molly-zonked clubgoers (witness this one from last December that congratulates Miami for finally having an art scene… like, where have you been for the past 10 years, bro?)
You don’t have to have lived here long to learn that this place is anything but a cultural wasteland. We may not have the MET, we may not have the New York Public Library, our county commissioners might even be considering selling the main branch of the Miami Dade Public Library to developers for a mega-mall, but we have cortaditos, and the PAMM – and a surprisingly robust literary tradition.
So here’s a just-in-time-for-summer roundup of the 10 best books set here in South Florida, that best capture the spirit of this place we all call home. It might help you with a quick-witted answer the next time an old uppity college buddy trashes the place.
P.S. You had lots of suggestions for others that should be on this list. Here they are.
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person – no mean feat for a black woman in 1930s Florida. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
Set in the vibrant coastal and Caribbean communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, Havana, and Cartagena, Colombia, The Veins of the Ocean delivers a profound and riveting Pan-American story of fractured lives finding solace and redemption in the beauty and power of the natural world, and in one another.
Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos. Her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness.
Three years after the great storm destroyed the planet and the demonic undead rose up to hunt the survivors, Wendy Wicker scavenges and steals in the deadly ruins of Florida to keep her adopted family alive. In a post-apocalyptic Key West that is plagued by hunger and ruled by an amoral bureaucracy, a life of crime is the only way to live.
Pulled between life at college and the needs of those she loves, Lizet is faced with difficult decisions that will change her life forever. Urgent and mordantly funny, "Make your Home Among Strangers" tells the moving story of a young woman torn between generational, cultural, and political forces; it's the story of what it means to be American today.
An all-star line-up of Florida's finest writers take turns at taking this outrageously original novel to the limit – and beyond. With bodies piling up, it's anybody's guess what will happen from one chapter to the next.
Rum Punch is classic Elmore Leonard – the electrifying thriller that served as the basis for the acclaimed film Jackie Brown by director Quentin Tarantino. Leonard’s story of a not-altogether-blameless flight attendant on the run from her vicious, gun-running sometime employer who sees her as a troublesome loose end, Rum Punch is “the King Daddy of crime writers” (Seattle Times) at his sharpest and most ingeniously entertaining.
A literary portrait of the Magic City told in 15 loosely linked stories by 15 award-winning authors. Sprawling from Hialeah to Homestead, from Wynwood to Stiltsville, these stories cover a range of cultures, languages and lives, reflecting the diversity and drama of a large and often misunderstood city.
Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the 20th century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.