BE­TWEEN THE LINES

Hard to tell if they’re fact or fic­tion

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Sun­shine State’s Strange Sa­gas

Florida, in all its wacky glory, makes for good read­ing. Fic­tion or non­fic­tion? Doesn’t mat­ter. You can hardly tell the dif­fer­ence. You just can’t make this stuff up. Two non­fic­tion books about Florida, pub­lished within a month of each other in 2016, do the state jus­tice by rev­el­ing in its weird­ness. Oh, Florida by Craig Pittman and Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry both take deadly aim at some of the state’s funny—and some not-so-funny—ec­cen­tric­i­ties.

Pittman, a na­tive Florid­ian and re­porter for the Tampa Bay Times, takes the more se­ri­ous ap­proach of the two books in Oh, Florida. He takes us through his­tory, hur­ri­canes, tacky tourism, en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards, cor­rupt politi­cians, bad boys and their be­yond-bizarre crimes, real es­tate scams and ob­ses­sion with the ar­ti­fi­cial.

Pick a page at ran­dom and you will find some­thing very weird: page 42, a mon­key named Johnny Brown once ran for mayor of Palm Beach (he lost); page 98, from 2000 to 2010, Florida led all other st ates in to­tal con­vic­tions of those who broke fed­eral cor­rup­tion laws; page 150, the Vil­lages, fastest-grow­ing metro area in the United States, is known for its lack of chil­dren and ex­cess of geri­atric sex; page 208, in a period of 12 days in 1967 the Florida Leg­is­la­ture passed a series of bills giv­ing un­prece­dented power to a pri­vate cor­po­ra­tion with plans to turn

cen­tral Florida into one gi­ant theme park.

Some of Pittman’s sto­ries are so out there, it’s hard to be­lieve they are true, but he has ev­ery­thing care­fully doc­u­mented. And all along, Pittman’s abid­ing love for his home state shines through.

Florida’s best-known hu­mor writer Dave Barry takes the LOL ap­proach in try­ing to ex­plain his crazy state. “If states were char­ac­ters on Se­in­feld, Florida would be Kramer,” writes Barry. “Ev­ery time it ap­pears, the au­di­ence au­to­mat­i­cally laughs, know­ing it’s go­ing to do some id­iot thing.”

He de­tails many of these “id­iot things” through­out the book, in­clud­ing the in­fa­mous skunk ape of the Ever­glades; the odd phe­nom­e­non of mer­maids at Weeki Wachee; the town of Cas­sadega, known as the “Psy­chic Cap­i­tal of the World;” the world’s largest re­tire­ment vil­lage—The Vil­lages, again; the hun­dreds of al­li­ga­tors gath­ered at Ga­tor­land; Lock & Load Mi­ami, where you can have a “ma­chine gun ex­pe­ri­ence,” and, it goes with­out say­ing, Key West.

Barry en­livens the facts with his char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hi­lar­i­ous hy­per­bole to give his read­ers an en­ter­tain­ing, on-tar­get pic­ture of the Best. State. Ever., which, when it comes to this strange state of Florida, could be the Fun­ni­est. Book. Ever.

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