BETWEEN THE LINES
Hard to tell if they’re fact or fiction
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.