Pensacola, Florida in Six Books

Shannon at River City Reading may have started a trend with her post Richmond, Virginia in Five Books, where she sums up “Richmond’s wonderful quirks without getting too literal.” Is that a fun bookish blog post idea or what?! I know a few other book bloggers have mentioned they are working on similar posts of their own.

So today I’m going to try to express Pensacola, Florida through six books. I’ve lived here for the past 13 years, and off and on at various times in my life for almost 20 years. People hear “Florida” and they think of anywhere except the panhandle, typically. Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, etc. Pensacola’s culture and way of life is much more closely related to south Alabama than it is to other parts of Florida. A couple of my book choices reflect that. Are you ready? Here we go!

1. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Thanks to We Ride for Roger for the use of their Five Flags photo.
Pensacola is known as the “City of Five Flags” because five governments have ruled it: Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Confederate States. After Spain’s Seven Years’ War victory over France, Florida was traded to Great Britain. The subsequent and especially self-reliant pioneers who settled the rural areas of Florida are called Crackers. Middle-grade historical fiction novel Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski tells of a feud on par with the Hatfields and McCoys, Florida Cracker style! It’s also incredibly well-researched: Lenski actually moved into the community, studying their way of life and listening to their stories, before writing the book.

2. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
by Fannie Flagg

That’s C on Pensacola Beach, Mother’s Day 2012.
You can’t think of Pensacola without picturing our stunning beaches. Sugar white sand, dunes, sea turtles and cute little sandpipers. There’s nothing like it anywhere else, and I was a Navy brat, so you know I’ve seen a lot of beaches! The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg is partially set in nearby Point Clear, Alabama, which boasts the same beautiful white sand. The book’s “comedy, mystery, and charm” make it a fantastic beach read, as do Fannie Flagg’s numerous other titles.

3. Falling Upwards by Richard Holmes

Blue Angels photo from the United States Navy official Flickr page.
Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels and “The Cradle of Naval Aviation” (all Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard aviators and Naval Flight Officers start their training here). The National Naval Aviation Museum is located here. Visitors can learn about Naval Aviation history and see 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aviation. If we go waaaaay back in aviation history, we’ll find the fascinating and daring stories of balloon aeronauts, which is chronicled in the last year’s non-fiction title Falling Upwards by Richard Holmes.

4. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom

Shrimp photo from Wikimedia Commons.
My spouse says I can’t write this post without including food. We love to eat out, and there are a lot of tasty local restaurants here, especially in the Downtown and East Hill areas. Then she says, “specifically, seafood.” Which I don’t really eat unless it’s sushi; but she’s an aficionado. I think locals would agree, Joe Patti’s Seafood is a Pensacola treasure. What book inspires thoughts of the Gulf Coast and seafood? Forrest Gump by Winston Groom. Obviously!
5. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
6. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Photo courtesy of the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra.

Being a musician in the area, I admit I’m about to show my bias. I’ve lived near some large cities, but I still think Pensacola has a wonderful arts scene for a city our size. We have an active music teachers association, an opera company, a children’s chorus, a jazz society, a choral society, an outstanding symphony, various ballet companies, a very active community theatre, a variety of art museums, places where you can create art, outdoor arts festivals, and more. There is never a lack of something to attend, and artistic types are sure to find a growing, welcoming, and supportive community of colleagues. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer were two novels with complex characters who offer glimpses into the artistic personality, the ways we view (and live with) talent, and the friendships and relationships we form.

So tell me, what do you love most about where you live? Can you think of a book that expresses that?