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Columbia County Observer

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Book Review

Oh, Florida!

How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country

by Craig Pittman

A woman from the Keys is driving to see her boyfriend and tells her ex-boyfriend (yep, ex) who’s in the passenger seat, to take the wheel so she can spruce up for the new guy, whipping out a razor to shave what news accounts called her “bikini” area. It did not end well…

If you were even mildly amused (or amazed) by this bizarre, but authentic morsel of Florida news, you may enjoy Craig Pittman’s new book on Florida’s culture of craziness, “Oh, Florida!” which could just as easily have been titled, “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up!”  Author Pittman, a native Floridian and respected Tampa Bay Times journalist, has a killer sense of humor and a nose for weird and wacky Florida news. His book reads like a cross between a grocery store tabloid and seriously interesting Florida history.

Author Craig Pittman

I don’t normally pay a whole lot of attention to Florida news – other than unavoidable stuff like the 2000 presidential election and some of the flashier fiascoes in Tallie – so most of what Pittman had to say was a real poke in the eye.  But in Pittman’s not-so-humble opinion, truth Florida-style is definitely stranger and infinitely more entertaining than fiction.

Don’t expect a plot in this book, although there are a lot of plotters. What you will mostly get is a litany of lunacy –a day at the Miami airport hanging out with wildlife inspectors turned up a man smuggling marmosets under his hat; a woman smuggling parrot chicks in her bra (one per cup) and forty-five red-footed tortoises stuffed into a man’s parachute pants.  

And then there’s nudity. There’s plenty of it in Florida. Blame it on the weather. FSU boasted the first streakers in 1973, setting a liberating example for hundreds of college students across the nation. 

There are sex scandals galore, prostitutes, pimps, strippers, and just plain old people like some Villagers getting caught in a town square doing the nasty. Human nature is after all…very human. Especially in Florida it seems. 

Pittman pokes fun at just about everyone in his comical exposé, but there are some heroes too, among them “Red” Cross, a politician from North Florida who fought for years for the people’s right to know, finally getting the Sunshine Law passed in 1964.  And Nathaniel Reed of Jupiter Island, Florida who worked as aide to Governor Claude Kirk, eventually going to Washington and helping pass the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

But the nut jobs far outnumber the champions and after a while Pittman’s stories, as amusing and mind-boggling as they are, begin to feel like an overdose.  

In the end, he finally goes to bat for his home state. “There’s treasure amid the garbage,” he says. ”I’m a big fan of Florida letting its freak flag fly high, because that’s who we are.”  Wrapping it all up, he smirks, “If you want peace and quiet, go to one of those boring, rectangular states like Nebraska.”   

Those who enjoy a humorous exposé filled with colorful characters and tantalizing tidbits of Florida history delivered with a punch will get a kick out of Pittman’s latest book. It’s worth the read just for the shock value and humor, but it’s much more.  It won the gold medal for Florida non-fiction from the Florida Book Awards and The New York Times called it "compulsively readable."

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