Compiled by Staci Sturrock • Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The Florida literary canon can be overwhelming.
Where exactly would you begin if you were beginning a Florida reading list? Hemingway? He wrote a lot of books in Florida, but the one set here, "To Have and Have Not," is not his best.
Wise bookworms would start with expert guidance. We asked a handful of local librarians and book store owners (and our very own Culture Editor) to name the books that qualify as "must reads" for Sunshine Staters.

Here are their page-turning picks:

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

About: Married off at a young age to a much older man, Janie suffers through two marriages before meeting the man of her dreams. This title regularly lands on lists of the greatest 20th century novels. Author Hurston died destitute in Fort Pierce and is buried there, with a marker paid for by novelist Alice Walker.

A quote: "There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

Our panel says: "A powerful novel of the life and times of an African American woman in early 20th century Florida, now recognized as an American classic. Also remarkable for the vivid portrayal of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane." – Tina Maura


Click here to buy the book

The Yearling

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)

About: An instant best seller, this Pulitzer Prize winner tells the timeless story of the Baxter family and their hardscrabble life in the wilds of Central Florida. The title refers to the pet deer adopted by 11-year-old Jody Baxter.

A quote: "Now he understood. This was death. Death was a silence that gave back no answer."

Our panel says: "A classic children's book set in Florida, written by a Florida author, and read by children and adults all over the country. All over the world." – Joanne Sinchuk


Click here to buy the book

The Everglades: River of Grass

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)

About: It's been compared to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Silent Spring" for the way it immediately drew public attention to an issue. Thanks to Douglas' book, an outcry to protect this unique piece of South Florida wilderness led to the establishment of Everglades National Park later that year.

A quote: "The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades."

Our panel says: "One of the most influential books ever written about ecology. Without this book the Everglades would be a parking lot." – Thorne Donnelly


Click here to buy the book

The Deep Blue Good-By

John D. MacDonald (1962)

About: The first in MacDonald's series about self-described beach bum and knight-errant Travis McGee, "The Deep Blue Good-By" finds McGee on the trail of the manipulative, ruthless Junior Allen, a man who uses women and tosses them aside like so many burned-to-ash cigarettes.

A quote: "Dancers work as hard as coal miners used to work. She stomped and huffed and contorted her perfectly proportioned body. In spite of the air-conditioning, she had filled the lounge with a faint sharp-sweet odor of a large overheated girl."

Our panel says: "MacDonald created the Travis McGee detective series, whose hero lived on a houseboat named 'The Busted Flush,' docked at slip F-18 in the Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale. There is a plaque in his honor at that location." – Stacy Alesi


Click here to buy the book

Panama

Thomas McGuane (1978)

About: Chet Pomeroy, a drug-burned rock star, stumbles back home to Key West, looking for equilibrium and hoping to win back the love of his life, Catherine.

A quote: "I didn't know what I was, not a Southerner certainly. A Floridian. Drugs, alligators, macadam, the sea, sticky sex, laughter and sudden death."

Our panel says: "Nobody captured the drug-fueled zaniness and dark edges of Key West in the '70s as well as McGuane, who may be best known for his other Key West novel, 'Ninety-Two In The Shade.' But this is his best, more direct, and yet full of McGuane's trademark humor, lost characters and sun-baked surrealism." – Larry Aydlette


Click here to buy the book

A Land Remembered

Patrick D. Smith (1984)

About: From 1858 to 1968, novelist Smith follows a family that rises from a dirt-poor existence to a life of wealth fueled by, what else in Florida?, real estate.

A quote: "They turned left again at the mainland, cruising down Biscayne Boulevard, its northern section jammed with more motels and junk food shops, service stations, massage parlors, porno movies, bars, adult book stores, the sidewalks empty in the early morning sun but teeming at night with prostitutes and junkies and winos and professional muggers."

Our panel says: "An epic about an American pioneer and three generations of Florida 'crackers,' the MacIvey family." – Rachel Schipper


Click here to buy the book

Sanibel Flats

Randy Wayne White (1990)

About: Doc Ford had settled into an easy life on Sanibel Island. And then an old friend shows up, asking for help.

A quote: "On the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in south Georgia, he found places that would be good to live, but he kept on going, crossing to the Florida Panhandle, stopping at several small towns to inquire about real estate, but ending up in Southwest Florida, as he somehow had known he would."

Our panel says: "A classic Florida mystery, set on the west coast, written by a Florida author, that gives a good background of Florida history through the easy vehicle of popular fiction." – Joanne Sinchuk


Click here to buy the book

Maximum Bob

Elmore Leonard (1991)

About: A law-bending Florida judge is sentenced to death by one of his enemies. Leonard dedicated this to his friend, the late Palm Beach County Judge Marvin Mounts, though it wasn’t supposed to be about him.

A quote: "Dale Crowe Junior was twenty, a tall, bony-looking kid in his dark-blue scrubs. Dark hair uncombed, dumb eyes wandering, worried, but trying to look bored."

Our panel says: "A great Leonard novel that captures South Florida’s weirdness, packed with oddball and scuzzball characters, from hanging judge Bob Gibbs (he always gives the maximum sentence) to his crazy wife, who thinks she’s channeling the spirit of a 12-year-old black girl. On the side, Gibbs is trying to pick up a young county probation officer, who has her hands full tracking down two rednecks who want to kill the judge. Add in an alligator hunter and an addicted Palm Beach dermatologist and you quickly realize how well Leonard understood the rich vs. poor dichotomy of the county." – Larry Aydlette


Click here to buy the book

The Orchid Thief

Susan Orlean (1998)

About: The eccentric “orchid thief” of the title leads journalist Orlean on a tour of America’s flower-selling subculture, a journey that will take them through the Florida swamps.

A quote: "Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida."

Our panel says: "Possibly more than you want to know about orchid culture and its dark side, there are also fascinating digressions about the development of South Florida and a memorable trip into the Everglades." – Tina Maura


Click here to buy the book

Florida Roadkill

Tim Dorsey (1999)

About: A suitcase of money gets dropped in the wrong car in Miami, and murderous mayhem ensues.

A quote: "During lulls, Ellrod studied notes from classes at Florida International University. When fried from an all-nighter, he daydreamed out the tinted windows and watched traffic on US 1 run through the asphalt badlands between Coconut Grove and Coral Gables."

Our panel says: "This is the first book by this Palm Beach County native in the humorous crime series featuring beloved serial killer Serge Storms, a Sunshine State trivia buff." – Stacy Alesi


Click here to buy the book

Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean

Lee Standiford (2002)

About: Standiford traces the 22-year lifespan of the Key West Railroad, from its extraordinary construction to the day nature wipes it out.

A quote: "Though Hemingway well understood the value of cultivating a certain mystique, it had nonetheless galled him to find himself, on the way to or from his workroom on the second floor of a then-unattached outbuilding, staring back at a queue of gawking visitors on the other side of the chain-link fence that protected his property."

Our panel says: "A really lovely, well-illustrated history of Flagler. Standiford reveals through great sacrifice and tragedy, the construction of the Over-Sea Railroad, later to be entirely destroyed by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935." – Rachel Schipper


Click here to buy the book

Skinny Dip

Carl Hiassen (2003)

About: Meet marine biologist Chaz Perrone. He tosses his wife off a cruise liner, but she floats to shore on a bale of marijuana, and meets an ex-cop who's happy to help her exact revenge.

A quote: "The dog proved to be as dumb and stubborn as a mud fence, so Stranahan had named him Strom."

Our panel says: "A hilarious crowd-pleaser involving attempted murder, con men, pythons, pain medicine and a former champion swimmer." – Tina Maura


Click here to buy the book

Shop Till You Drop

Elaine Viets (2003)

About: Trading in her chic life for a shabby one, and trying to stay one step ahead of her past, Helen Hawthorne feels like she’s settled into a safe, stable routine – until she learns the manager of the boutique where she works has been embezzling money and selling designer drugs.

A quote: "You could not simply walk into Juliana's. The elegant green door was locked to keep out undesirables: sunburned tourists in 'I Love Florida' T-shirts, harried mothers with sticky-fingered children, and the hopelessly unfashionable."

Our panel says: "The first book in the humorous 'Dead End Job Series' features Helen Hawthorne, who works minimum wage jobs under the table at a variety of Fort Lauderdale businesses while solving the murder mysteries she invariably stumbles upon. Viets makes it a point to work those same jobs, from hotel maid to bookseller to wedding dress consultant." – Stacy Alesi


Click here to buy the book

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Jeff Lindsay (2004)

About: Violent sociopath Dexter balances his good and evil sides for years until his sister asks for his help in solving the case of the Tamiami Slasher.

A quote: "Another beautiful Miami day. Mutilated corpses with a chance of afternoon showers. I got dressed and went to work."

Our panel says: "This was the book that introduced the beloved serial killer who only kills bad people and whose day job was as blood splatter analyst for the Miami police department. This became the hit TV show, 'Dexter,' for the Showtime network." – Stacy Alesi


Click here to buy the book

Silencer

James W. Hall (2009)

About: Just before Earl Hammond is going to donate his Coquina Ranch to the state to preserve it from developers, he's shot dead. Who's behind the murder? The trail leads back to a cabal of powerful men in the 1930s.

A quote: "It was a warm morning, cloudless with just enough breeze to stir the tops of the live oaks, the pines and sabal palms, and riffle the tall grass beyond the corral."

Our panel says: "A great Florida mystery by a Florida author that touches on issues of developers and environmental issues, with a character who used to live in Stiltsville and now lives in the Everglades. How much more Floridian can you get?" – Joanne Sinchuk


Click here to buy the book

Villa Mizner: The House That Changed Palm Beach

Richard Rene Silvin (2014)

About: "Villa Mizner" begins with architect Addison Mizner in the home of his dreams – a grand town palace on Worth Avenue – and includes fictionalized conversations with his many famous clients of the 1920s. The book explores the magnificent homes that Mizner designed for these elite families, many of which were destroyed 40 years later.

A quote: (from Addison Mizner): "Poets are born, not paid."

Our panel says: "A beautifully written and produced book that showcases one of Palm Beach's finest homes and the genius who designed it." – Thorne Donnelly


Click here to buy the book
OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS

Stacy Alesi is a reference librarian and author liaison at the West Boca Branch Library (the Florida Library of the Year 2014-’15). She created a Florida Authors Wiki at FloridaAuthors.WikiFoundry.com

Larry Aydlette is Culture Editor of The Palm Beach Post. He also recommends the Florida-centric works of Charles Willeford ("Cockfighter," "Miami Blues"), Joan Didion ("Miami," "The Last Thing He Wanted"), Karen Russell ("Swamplandia"), and Harry Crews ("Florida Frenzy," "Karate Is A Thing Of The Spirit"). And while he's at it, he strongly suggests the novels and short stories of Miami-based Edwidge Danticat, who writes luminously about her native Haiti.

Thorne Donnelly owns Liberty Book Store in downtown West Palm Beach. He adds that Pineapple Press and the University Press of Florida have “excellent selections” of books about the Sunshine State.

Tina Maura is collection development coordinator and “book goddess” at Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach. She’s also that rare breed -- a fifth-generation Floridian.

Dr. Rachel A. Schipper is director of libraries at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. “If you need/want best seller/good reads for the beach, you cannot go wrong with Judy Blume, Stuart Woods, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Carl Hiaasen and many, many others,” she says.

Joanne Sinchuk is the founder, former owner and current manager of Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove district. She once told the Palm Beach Post, "If I didn't own a bookstore, I'd probably just be laying on a beach somewhere. And I'd be reading a good book."