Bestselling Author Kristen Arnett’s Favorite Florida Reads
The Orlando-native and award-winning novelist shares what Sunshine State books have inspired her the most
While New York Times bestselling author Kristen Arnett may be best known for her debut novel Mostly Dead Things, she's also a library lover, Florida State University alumnae, queer novelist and Orlando native. After graduating with her master’s in Library and Informational Sciences from FSU, Arnett went on to write for acclaimed publications like the New York Times, TIME, The Guardian and more. Her most recent book "With Teeth: A Novel" (2021), was a finalist for the Lamda Literary Award in fiction. Arnett’s stories consistently bring her readers back to Florida, a place she believes is wildly alive and “full of danger.” Currently, she’s finishing up a collection of short stories highlighting queer voices in the Sunshine State. Flamingo recently caught up with the award-winning author to find out what titles are stacked on her bedside table and, of course, her favorite Florida books of all time.
How long is your current TBR list?
It’s honestly incredibly long! There are so many books coming out, all the time, and there’s just not enough time in the day to get to all of them. I have stacks on my coffee table, stacks next to my bed, books stashed in my car. I get a lot of ARCs (advanced reader copies), so I’m forever trying to play catch up with all of those, too! It’s a good problem, though. I’d rather have a lot to read than not enough!
What genre do you like to read?
I love almost everything! I am a huge fan of short fiction, love literary fiction and memoir and essay work. Poetry is what gets me ready to write when I want to get image-oriented and focus on the line. I like family fiction a lot; the domestic, I might call that. I read a lot of queer work, too.
Do you prefer e-books or paper books?
I truly enjoy a physical copy. The screens are kind of hard on my eyes, for sure. I understand the appeal of e-books, though! That portability is terrific. I’m also a librarian, and I just think it’s fantastic that we have so many ways to access information now. It’s amazing, truly.
What book has inspired you the most?
The book that made me want to become a writer was Dorothy Allison’s "Bastard out of Carolina." It was the first time I read a book and was like, wow, I see myself in here. It was also the first time I was like, wait, you can write like this? It’s a book that’s queer, sure, but it’s a book that’s so much about place. Place is stuck there in its pages, embedded in the lines. It’s about what it’s like to move through a place and have it move inside you, too. I think about it all the time when I am writing Florida work. I want to get it right, just like Dorothy.
What are your favorite Florida books?
- "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell
One of our greatest Florida treasures, in my opinion. This book is visceral and alive in all the best ways, just like our state: fecund, porous, and rife with danger. Just one of the greatest books set in Florida ever written!
- Milk Blood Heat" by Dantiel W. Moniz’s
This debut short fiction collection is a stunner that wowed everyone, myself included! Moniz is from Jacksonville and many of the stories drip with Florida sweat. Just incredibly good!
- "Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls" by T Kira Māhealani Madden.
One of my absolute favorite memoirs on queer girlhood in Florida. This is a book about how to live and how to love. Beautiful writing.
- "Ordinary Girls" by aquira Díaz
[Another] of my other favorite memoirs about Florida! Jaquira Díaz writes sharp, lovely prose, all about growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. This is an ode to girlhood that I couldn’t put down.
- "Florida Diary" by Laura van den Berg
I’m cheating a little by adding this to the list because it’s not out yet! Laura van den Berg’s upcoming novel is about Central Florida/Sanford life and I am positive it’s going to be one of my favorite books of all time. ORLANDO FOREVER!