The best Florida books to read while you’re social distancing

We're all in this together separately.

click to enlarge Arin Greenwood’s got a great Florida book for you to read while social distancing. - Laurie Ross
Laurie Ross
Arin Greenwood’s got a great Florida book for you to read while social distancing.


Hi, Gen X here. Without making light of the pandemic — because, wow, does it suck — I’d like to point out that us GenXers are totally prepared for this. As author Lauren Hough tweeted Sunday, we’re “the only generation who can keep our asses at home without being told, the motherfucking latchkey kids, the generation used to being neglected by fucking everyone. We’ll be the only ones left.”

She’s not wrong. As a Gen Xer, I’m totally here for the #QuarantineAndChill hashtag, but, honestly, that’s really just Wednesday. You’ve seen the memes about people who are so happy when you cancel plans on them? Those memes are my patronus.

It’s not so shocking, then, that I have some suggestions for reading to get you through the next few weeks. Some of these are old favorites while others are fairly new releases, so tuck in, folks.

Drawn to the Deep: The Remarkable Underwater Explorations of Wes Skiles”, by Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman takes a deep dive into the man who decided, “hey, let’s dive into the Floridan Aquifer — many, many feet below Florida’s sandy surface.” It’s the perfect book for adrenaline junkies who might not love sitting on the couch, and it’s also perfect for anyone who’s ever wondered what a limestone tunnel of water beneath the surface of the earth looks like. University Press of Florida, 2018.

Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther,” by Craig Pittman

If there’s a story that will make you feel hope in times that can feel hopeless, it’s Pittman’s story about the Florida panther. It made me ugly cry and happy cry; read my review here. Hanover Square Press, 2020.

America’s Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI,” by Kate Winkler Dawson

Proof I wasn’t kidding about social distancing and Gen X: I belong to Fantastic Strangelings, a virtual book club for Jenny Lawson’s Nowehere Bookshop. Every month it mails me a book, I read it, and then I can head over to the Facebook page and discuss it. Or not. That’s how I found this book: They mailed it to me. My one-sentence review: If you’re fascinated by blood spatter, bullet trajectories and why they’re things we care about, read this almost-gruesome book. Penguin Random House, 2020.

Alas Babylon,” by Pat Frank

Hey, COVID-19 might be a pandemic, but at least it isn’t nuclear war. Worth a re-read if you haven’t read it in years, and if you’ve never read it, do it now. Did we mention it’s set in Florida? For $2.99 you can read it  on Kindle, or, you know, Tombolo Books delivers in St. Petersburg. Lippincott, 1959.

Your Robot Dog Will Die,” by Arin Greenwood

It’s dystopian, end-times fiction, but it’s about dogs, and it’s set in Tampa Bay (shout out to Gulfport.) Greenwood’s thinly disguised some local Gulfportians in her young adult fiction that appeals to adults who love dogs and are mildly annoyed by vegans. If you need more information, find Greenwood on Facebook and you’ll get a good idea as to what to expect (last week she asked Facebook if social distancing included petting dogs, so, well, there you go.) Penguin Random House, 2018.

Condominium,” by John D. MacDonald

When the pandemic passes, the same ol’ environmental issues remain. If you adore Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White, and the Florida crime novel genre, you need to go back in time and read the one that came before all others. That’s this one; every other novel about the Florida environment and crime succeeds because of this one. Penguin Random House, 2014. Don’t be fooled by this date — that’s the recent edition, with a Dean Koontz foreward; MacDonald published Condominium in 1977. Here’s the New York Times review.)

Salt River,” by Randy Wayne White 

Speaking of the environment and crime, White’s work remains some of my favorite Florida writing. This is his 26th (!) in the Doc Ford series, released last month, and the series never gets old. Alongside crime, White makes salient points about harmful algal blooms, red tide, and sperm donation. Really. This novel features Eckerd College, the Vinoy, and St. Petersburg’s waterfront. Almost certainly related: White’s Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill will open this year on the new Pier, and even if you hate the design (I like it myself), you can’t resist his Yucatan Shrimp. Penguin Random House, 2020.

Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus, and Neon Pies,” by Mark Lane

Columnist Mark Lane’s newest book about Florida takes an irreverent (yet loving) look at our state’s icons. Lane’s easy style will allow you to forget everything happening outside your door, and—in case you were wondering—no, Florida doesn’t have an official state virus. This book should be a handbook for any new Floridian. University Press of Florida, 2019.

Tossed to the Wind: Stories of Hurricane Maria Survivors,” by María T. Padilla and Nancy Rosado

Granted, you can’t get this one until early April, but if you order it now you’ll have it first. The title says it all, and while it may not be the most uplifting book you’ll ever read, the stories are worth telling—and worth telling well. University Press of Florida, 2020.

Holding Smoke,” by Steph Post

The last of the Judah Cannon trilogy, this is actually a three-fer, because you’re going to want to read all three. There’s a pentecostal preacher, a drug runner, and a Southern family. That should be enough to take your mind off what’s happening, at least for a few hours. Polis Books, 2020.

Remember, we’re all in this together. Separately.

Cathy Salustri is the former arts + entertainment editor for Creative Loafing. When there isn’t a global pandemic she reviews theater for CL, and she reviews books for them in non-pandemic times, too. She’s a published author herself. Email her, or sign up for her newsletter.

Follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news + views. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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