by Shayne Benowitz
With all the poolside and beach blanket lounging you surely have planned while in Key West, why not pick up a good read. You happen to be vacationing on an island perfect for soaking up the sun, and also an island with an amazing literary history. Why not put down the gossip magazines, and dive into a great book by people who lived in and were inspired by Key West? Below are four recommendations to get you started.
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway should be required reading for anyone traveling to Key West. When I spent my first summer here, I read A Farewell to Arms and after that I was smitten. Hemingway quickly became my favorite author. Although he spent the better part of a decade in Key West and wrote much of his greatest works inside his writing studio at 907 Whitehead Street, which you can still visit today, To Have and Have Not is the only book he wrote that takes place in Key West.
The first page draws you in with a description of the island as Harry Morgan approaches from sea on his fishing boat. The story follows the hapless hero on ill-fated adventures on the ocean and stresses the theme of two different types of Key West locals, the haves and have nots. Other Hemingway recommendations? The Sun Also Rises with its partying ex-pat protagonists is my favorite. For a longer read For Whom the Bell Tolls set during the Spanish Civil War really delivers, or for something short and sweet try the epic dream of a short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
Well, the title says it best, it is all here. Elizabeth Bishop lived in Key West on and off from the mid-1930s until 1946 at three different homes and apartments. Her poems are characterized as emotionally evocative while also visually descriptive, and she truly captures the fleeting beauty of Key West’s essence, as well as its unique natural world. This volume includes everything from schoolgirl poems in New England to poems inspired by her life and travels in Brazil and New York City. Especially captivating and painting an accurate picture of Key West is “Pleasure Seas.”
Beyond Paradise by the Key West Authors Co-Op
This collection of short stories and poems by local Key West authors is as quirky and offbeat as the island itself, which is exactly the point. Key West has a legendary reputation that is hard to pin down. Read the stories that characterize the island and gain further insight into what makes this island special for so many different people. The stories are at once bawdy and entertaining and romantic and fantastical.
Quit Your Job and Move to Key West by Christopher Shulz and David Sloan
Local publishing powerhouse Phantom Press has a series of books to its credit offering a cheeky, modern look at the eccentricities of the island. If you fell under the spell that Key West holds on so many of its locals, why not pick this up as a guide book for how to make your dream of living in paradise a reality. The book is a mixture of practical advice and hilarious anecdotes typical of life on the island.
The list of great reads is exhaustive and there truly is something for everybody. Other notable writers who made Key West home include, poet Robert Frost, playwright Tennessee Willians, novelist Carl Hiasson, and many more. Spread your towel over that lounge chair, put on your shades, and let your mind venture into a great book.
Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer working on her debut novel. For more travel stories and a daily dose of what’s cool around the globe visit her website at http://web.me.com/shaynebeth.