Prose and cons of Florida books: essential Sunshine State reads

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Pittman worked for the newspapers in Pensacola and Sarasota before joining the Times two decades ago. Waite, part of the PolitiFact team that helped win one of the Times’ two Pulitzers last week, comes from Nebraska. When it comes to outrage over the vanishing wetlands, they are twin sons of different mothers.

Pittman and Waite also sit down with Creative Loafing’s Political Whore Wayne Garcia for a swell podcast.

I WANT TO SAY ONE WORD TO YOU – PLASTICS: Years ago, New Yorker writer John McPhee wrote Oranges and you had to marvel that someone could write such a fascinating book on a species of citrus.


This year’s John McPhee Award goes to Bob Kealing, author of Tupperware Unsealed (University Press of Florida, $28).  Of course, this is much more than a book about plastic containers.

Balzac once said that behind every fortune there was a crime. There’s no real crime behind  Tupperware, but there sure as hell is a good story.

Earl Tupper invented the stuff and came up with the idea. It was his business partner, Brownie Wise,  who not only came up with the look of the product, but also its in-home approach to marketing.

But the fall-out between Tupper and Wise is the great part of the story. As one of the first phenomenally successful businesswomen, Wise was heralded by the press. She was the first woman ever to grace the cover of Business Week.

Tupper’s jealousy over Wise’s success led to a falling out and at once time, Tupper ordered Wise written out of the company history and had a company hand bulldoze hundreds of copies of Wise’s memoir into oblivion.

Kealing, a reporter for WESH-TV in Orlando, is a man with wide interests. He’s the keeper of the Kerouac House in Orlando and author of Kerouac in Florida (Arbiter Press, $13.95).

Now that the Tupperware book is out, he’s turned his attention to his next book – the story of singer Gram Parsons’childhood in the South, including his years in Winter Haven.

Can’t wait for that one.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO FISH TO LOVE FISHING: Writer / photographer Tommy L. Thompson is also a charter boat captain and his new book, The Salt Water Angler’s Guide to Florida’s Big Bend and Emerald Coast (University Press of Florida, $22.50) looks at one of this state’s most magnificent and – so far – relatively undeveloped areas.


Let’s hope it stays that way.

The waters and the villages along that coast are as close as we can come to stepping into a time machine: Horseshoe Beach . . . Panacea . . . Carabelle . . .  these are some of the loveliest small towns along this still-wild coast. Each trip that way on US 98 brings new sightings of condos, but compared to the concrete jungles to the south, the Big Bend still offers the pleasure of isolation.

Thompson’s book is aimed at fisherman, of course, and as a longtime guide on the coast, the author knows his stuff. But this book should also be marketed to those folks who never set foot on a boat. Rarely has there been a more intelligent and helpful guide to navigating the waters of restaurants and inns.

If you follow his fishing advice, you’ll probably have a good haul. Follow the other advice, and you’re also guaranteed a good time and great meals at fine restaurants where someone else provides the catch.

TUBING THE ITCH: One of the great pleasures of North Florida living is flopping in an innertube for a nice float down an icy spring-fed river.

Too bad we can’t tune out the noisy redneck masses floating alongside us, surreptitiously sipping Natty Light tallboys and flipping their ashes into the pristine water. It’s just the price we pay, right?

[image-4]Steven Earl’s shimmering photo essay, Itchetucknee: Sacred Waters (University Press of Florida, $34.95) shows us the natural beauty of the river, without the pasty-bellied multitudes and the beer cans floating in the water.

This might as well be the river at the dawn of time. Earl’s photographs preserve that indescribable shade of blue known to every Floridian north of Orlando. His photographs of reflections in the water look like the work of Claude Monet.

This is the world Steven Earl sees every day. In addition to being a great photographer, he’s a park ranger.

This stunning book belongs on the coffee table of every Floridian who loves this place.

DOWN THE ROAD WE GO: Of course, one of the great Florida-art stories of recent years has been the rediscovery of the “Highwaymen” – a league of African American artists who painted Florida landscapes and sold them along the U.S. highways in the 1960s to tourists grasping for souvenirs of their visit to the Sunshine State.[image-5]

Fine arts professor Gary Monroe told their story in The Highwaymen (University Press of Florida, $34.95) in 2001. Now he’s back with another volume in this series, The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black’s Concrete Dreams (University Press of Florida, $39.95).

Black had been one of the Highwaymen, but by the late 1990s was sentenced to prison for drug possession. Behind bars, his talent found new appreciation and he began painting a series of murals – landscapes, of course – that changed concrete blocks into vistas that both comforted and tormented the prisoners.

Monroe’s thoughtful essay sets the tone for photographs of Black’s murals. Such prison artwork is unlikely in any other state in the nation.

But this is Florida, after all.

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist.


This state inspires so much great prose, it’s amazing we can keep up.

Here’s a half dozen great new Florida books you need to get your mitts on.

THEY PUT UP A PARKING LOT: From some of the same folks who brought you a Pulitzer Prize comes Paving Paradise (University Press of Florida, $27).  Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite tell a complex and on-its-face unsexy story about water in Florida.  But it works, drawing readers into its difficult subject by resorting to the dirtiest trick in the journalist’s bag of tricks: great storytelling.

Pittman and Waite use several people – some heroic, some shady – to examine the political shell game that makes white equal black and no equal yes. They tell the story through the eyes of politicians, developers, bait-shop owners and a league of people who mourn what’s happened to this state.

Based on their award-winning series for the St. Petersburg Times, Paving Paradise is the perfect way to give a longer shelf life to a vital work of journalism. Pittman and Waite are a couple of the best journalists practicing the craft in the country today. 

It makes us wonder if there will be a place for journalism like this in a few years. If newspapers still exist, will they give over this much space to an in-depth report. Will book publishers then give reporters the space to expand on their work?

This isn’t a story that works well on Twitter.

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