WLRN #FridayReads: Florida Keys Edition

Aug 25, 2017

The Keys are on our minds this week because it's the annual Florida Keys Museums and Attractions Weekend.  If you've ever wanted to explore more about the history, culture and natural environment of the Keys, you can get free and discounted admission to more than 20 museums and attractions from Islamorada to Key West.

If you can't make it, or want to learn more about the Keys on the page, we came up with these recommendations from some people who really know the island chain. If you have suggestions, add them in the comments or tweet them to us @WLRN.

Bryant Diersing, Monroe County library assistant, Key Largo branch

Charlotte’s Story by Charlotte Arpin Niedhauk: This narrative of Charlotte and Russell Niedhauk’s adventures caretaking on Elliott Key (1934-1935) is one of my favorite books about Florida Keys life in the out-islands.

The book covers a time when the barrier islands of Biscayne Bay were about the same in lifestyle, environment and community as the Florida Keys further down the archipelago. Their encounters with rum runners, drug smugglers, sailors and fisherman are great chronicles of island life. The adventures and observations of this couple offers a glimpse into island culture and survival skills including Russell’s Hurricane Log of the 1935 storm on Elliott Key.

The Niedhauks later moved south to take care of Lignum Vitae Key from 1953–1975.  I recommend this to anyone wanting to get a glimpse into the pioneering days of the islands.

Native Tongue by Carl Hiaasen: The best snapshot of the struggle to protect the environment in the Upper Keys of the late 1980's.

Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford: Fascinating and easy-flowing story of Henry Flagler, the Overseas Railroad and the 1935 Hurricane.

Arlo Haskell, Key West Literary Seminar executive director and author of The Jews of Key West

Since nuclear war has lately become a less remote possibility, I've been thinking about the late great Denis Johnson's underappreciated Fiskadoro. Set in a post-apocalyptic Key West he names "Twicetown" (because it was struck not once but twice by atomic blast), I always marvel at how much the book still feels like home, especially the blasted-out coastal places I remember from my childhood on Cudjoe Key. It's a hearty reminder of the essential quality of this place, and a hell of a good book.

Nancy Klingener, WLRN Florida Keys reporter

My favorite writing about the Keys is not a specific book but it’s all by the same writer, Elizabeth Bishop. She lived in Key West on and off in the 1930s, and her essays, letters and poems about the place capture it as well as anyone can. She’s an outsider, but a sympathetic one who appreciates the idiosyncrasies without ridiculing them. You can find her writing about Key West in various collections, including Collected Prose for the essays, The Complete Poems and One Art for the letters — or the Library of America’s Elizabeth Bishop volume, which includes poetry, prose and letters.

I’m also fond of John Hersey’s Key West Tales, which cover a lot of episodes and periods from the island’s history. And I like Alison Lurie’s Key West novels, The Truth About Lorin Jones and The Last Resort.