If you're looking for some easy Florida reading to take to the beach, buy a paperback novel. Something by Hiaasen, MacDonald or Dorsey.
But if you're looking for more serious insight into some of the special challenges, places, natural wonders and history Florida offers, four recently published reference books should hold a prominent place in your home library.
Each book offers something different for Florida residents, but together they define a lifestyle unique to our state.
One book covers Florida gardening, one is about Florida's historic places, another focuses on outdoor recreation and the fourth tells you the best way to keep your coastal home damage-free in a harsh environment.
"Florida Recreation Atlas"
This National Geographic publication, the size of a road atlas, is a comprehensive look at the best places in the state to spend time outdoors. Filled with hunting, fishing, camping, swimming and golfing information, it includes detailed topographic maps of the state and a complete road network.
The book isn't a travel guide and doesn't try to be. It just gives you a close-up look at what Florida has to offer as far as creeks and rivers and campsites and wildlife areas.
A chart on campground information tells you where the nearest town is to each campground, how many campsites are in the park and whether there are showers available. Other chapters include: "Places of Interest," "Physical and Climate Maps," State Park Map and Guide," Hiking and Biking Map and Guide," and "Golfing and Beaches Map and Guide."
The book is 144 pages of pure, natural Florida, the maps showing national forests, wilderness areas, state forests, travel parks, wildlife management areas and recreational vehicle parks. If you want a road map showing the quickest way to get from Tampa International Airport to Arcadia or Jupiter, this might not be the best book to use. If you want to know where the best campsites are in Clay County and what creeks are close by, you'd have to go a long way to find a better reference guide than this one. It's not for readers who prefer the beaten path. It doesn't list the best hotels or restaurants and it doesn't tell you the best rides at Disney World. It's for people who like to spend their time outdoors.
List price: $24.95; www.natgeomaps.com
"Florida's Historic Places"
It took eight years to write "Florida's Historic Places," but it was worth the wait.
Co-authored by Tampa's Tim Ohr, who has edited several books on Florida (including "Florida's Fabulous Lighthouses," "Florida's Fabulous Trail Guide" and "Florida's Fabulous Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide") the book includes vintage black and white photos of historic figures having a good time in Florida's sun and surf. Just a couple of examples: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and naturalist and author John Burroughs standing together in Fort Myers in the early 1900s; and Babe Ruth and New York Gov. Al Smith playing a round of golf at the Miami Biltmore in Coral Gables in 1930.
Sections of the book cover Florida's first people, the Civil War, tourism, historical museums and a section called "Dreamers, Explorers, Idealists, Industrialists, and Power Brokers."
"We originally planned on including about 50 historic places," says Ohr, who worked with Michael Sanders, James Phillips and Nevin Sitler in writing and researching the book. "It wasn't long before we had between 200 and 300 historic places."
A section called "Hollywood in Florida" features a photo of two chimpanzees riding elephants during the filming of one of the many Tarzan movies made in the Sunshine State. A partial list of the movies made here is near the back of the book; it includes "Apollo 13," "The Yearling," "Cocoon," "Cape Fear," "Caddy Shack," "Body Heat," "Scarface," "Midnight Cowboy," "Key Largo," "Midway," "Moonraker," "Absence of Malice" and "12 O'clock High."
List price: $15.95; www.rockypublications.com
"Florida Gardener's Handbook: All You Need to Know to Plan, Plant & Maintain a Florida Garden"
This book is a great source for serious gardeners who have to deal with the many challenges that are a part of Florida's horticulture.
The co-authors are well known in Florida gardening circles. Tom MacCubbin of Orlando is familiar to many Florida gardeners through his radio and television programs and as a gardening columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Georgia Tasker of Miami was the garden writer for the Miami Herald for more than 30 years and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her writing on tropical deforestation.
The book lists plants along with their hardiness, color, peak season, mature size, water needs, care, problems, and uses and selections (how to get the most from them in your garden).
Color-coded pages make it easy to find the information you want, and the book's chapters cover annuals; bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers; citrus, nuts and other fruits; herbs and other vegetables; lawns; perennials; roses and shrubs; trees and palms; tropical plants; and vines.
The handbook also describes Florida's three climatic zones — North Florida, Central Florida and South Florida — listing each area's rainfall, chances of frost and freezing weather in the winter, how many hours a year gardeners can expect the temperature to drop below 45 degrees, and when they can expect their first frost of the year.
A list of Florida gardens to visit is near the back of the book, along with a glossary of terms used in the gardening world.
A chart dealing with herbs tells you when to plant, how high they can be expected to grow, their growth habits (spreading, clumping, upright), what spacing they require, how to start (seed, cutting, etc.); and the part of the herb to use.
In all, this 271-page book might be the last gardening book you will need. And it would be a pretty good handbook to have around if you've just started gardening in Florida.
List price: $24.99; www.coolspringspress.com
"Coastal Homeowners: The Complete Photo Guide to Coastal Maintenance"
Written by Wayne Higson, a licensed general contractor in North Carolina since 1989, this photo guide started to become a reality when Higson built his own home on the Crystal Coastline of North Carolina in 1993.
At the time, he didn't realize how quickly a coastal environment — with salt spray, humidity, corrosion, wind-driven rain and hurricanes — could damage a house. But he quickly discovered the unique problems coastal homeowners face, and through research and trial and error, he learned the best ways to handle those problems. And most of his tips will apply to waterfront homes here in Florida.
Some of the 13 chapters cover coastal decks, coastal roofs, water heaters, preventive maintenance and exterior siding and trim. The book boasts more than 300 full-color photographs that illustrate the problems and solutions coastal homeowners face.
The final chapter is called "Increasing Rental Income," and is aimed at coastal homeowners who want to increase their rental income.
List price: $19.95; www.coastalhomebook.com or call (877) 437-9657