Ever wonder what there is to do in "the rest of Florida"?
Well, you're in luck. Florida! A Hyper-Local Guide to the Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy of the Most Far-out State in America provides 547 gorgeous pages of the kind of roadside America and cultural gems that let you slip away from the Florida of "don't say gay" and into a lofty Florida of our dreams and memories.
This is the first foray into guide books for A24, the production company famous for movies like Moonlight, Spring Breakers, The Florida Project, and Zola. It's illustrated by Gabriel Alcala, lead singer of Miami garage-rock band Jacuzzi Boys, whose art has appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Designed by Elana Schlenker and Jordi Ng, it also includes a wealth of historical and nature photography upon which you can feast your eyes.
Florida! explores fascinating subcultures like pirates, mermaids, naturists, mediums, and the Gay Commie Skate Crew of St. Pete. You can read about classic nightclubs, find recipes for Cuban sandwiches, and even enjoy a pictograph on how to fight a shark. The book not only offers ways to experience the Florida of today but preserves the local hangouts and havens that so often get paved over in the pursuit of capital.
Ohio-born, St. Petersburg-bred Gabrielle Calise edited the book. She's a Tampa Bay Times reporter who carved out a beat for herself at the paper, covering culture and nostalgia. She writes about cool, fun, weird Florida history — the kind of stuff that "makes Florida Florida," she says. After collaborating on a Wildsam pocket field guide on the Gulf Coast, she received a pitch to edit the guide from the book department at A24. Flipping through her Rolodex, she asked herself, "Who else do we want to come on this sort of road trip through Florida?"
Islandia Journal founder Jason Katz, Ashira Morris, Kathryn Varn, and Nick D'Alessandro. A24 was open to leaving nearly no conch shell unturned, allowing the editors to shape the lengthy book. "[A24] really wanted to pass the mic to Floridians and have us tell the story," Calise says.
Writer and Orlando native D'Alessandro, who headed up the Central Florida and Space Coast chapters, has a podcast on Florida history and culture, Wait Five Minutes. He says the book is so thick because "it has all of those really niche, interesting, small town stories that I think sometimes get lost in the general oeuvre of talking about Florida." The first item he thought to include in the book was the giant wizard above Kissimmee's Magic Castle Gift Shop. You'll find his illustrated guide on how to shop in this odd tchotchke store.
Calise spent time contemplating "what Florida means to people." She saw someone refer to a vibe in a tweet about Zola that featured someone running through a Publix parking lot as "Floridacore." It inspired her to ask D'Alessandro if he had a Publix tribute in him. Lo and behold, he already had one drafted. "Dear Publix, I Love You" landed in the book.
D'Alessandro notes a section in the book by Brooklynn Prince, the young actress in The Florida Project. "Everybody here who's seen that movie agrees that it is a really loving and fascinating tribute to our town," he says. "Getting to talk about things that are seen in that movie, like the gift shops in that part of Orlando, the Twistee Treat... getting to reflect those things that are both a part of A24's movie that's set in Orlando but are also a part of our character as a city, it was really fun to have [the film and book] be in conversation with each other."
If you buy the book and feel something is missing, Calise wants you to reach out to her on Twitter to tell her about what they overlooked. "There are so many different Florida universes that exist that, of course, we tried to involve as many voices as possible," she says, but "I'm sure there are more Floridas that exist."
Florida! A Hyper-Local Guide to the Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy of the Most Far-out State in America. Edited by Gabrielle Calise. 2022. 547 pages. Hardcover, $50.