In Conversation: A Journey to the Heart of Florida

Event starts Sunday, November 15 at 5:30 p.m. In 2016, Kent Russell – restless and thirsting for adventure – embarked on an odyssey-like trek throughout Florida, an experience he wryly […]


In Conversation: A Journey to the Heart of Florida

Authors:Christopher Beha, Kent Russell


Event starts Sunday, November 15 at 5:30 p.m.

In 2016, Kent Russell – restless and thirsting for adventure – embarked on an odyssey-like trek throughout Florida, an experience he wryly chronicled across the pages of In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida, a memoir that’s equal parts Jack Kerouac, kamikaze travelogue, and historical tome. It’s a vivid, encyclopedic, erudite, ferociously irreverent and deeply ambivalent love letter to Russell’s home state, and he’s revisiting his (mis)adventures with Chris Beha, author of The Index of Self-Destructive Acts and executive editor of Harper’s Magazine.

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Christopher Beha

Christopher Beha is the editor of Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of two previous novels, What Happened to Sophie Wilder and Arts & Entertainments, and a memoir, The Whole Five Feet. His writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. On the day data journalist and recent media celebrity Sam Waxworth arrives in New York to write for the Interviewer, a street-corner preacher declares that the world is coming to an end. Whether or not the world is ending, Beha’s characters in The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Tin House Books) are all headed to apocalypses of their own making. Sam’s first assignment is a profile of disgraced political columnist Frank Doyle, known to Sam for his sentimental works of baseball lore. But when Sam meets Frank at Citi Field for the Mets’ home opener, he finds himself entangled into Doyle’s crumbling family empire.  There’s a matriarch who lost her investment bank to the financial crisis; a son who hasn’t been the same since his second combat tour in Iraq; the son’s best friend and successful hedge funder, showing cracks in his spotless public image. And then there’s Frank’s daughter, with whom Sam becomes involved—just as his wife arrives from Wisconsin. None of them know how close they are to losing everything, including each other. The Financial Times called it “A big, sympathetic book about the follies and failings of elite New Yorkers […] Beha creates a supple context in which to explore a series of intersecting efforts to find or regain footing and meaning in life.”

Kent Russell

Kent Russell is the author of I Am Sorry to Have Raised A Timid Son. His essays have appeared in The New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, GQ, n+1, The Believer, and Grantland. In the summer of 2016, Kent Russell–broke, at loose ends, hungry for adventure–set off to walk across Florida. Mythic, superficial, soaked in contradictions, and literally vanishing into the sea, Florida seemed to Russell to embody America’s divided soul. He called on two friends intent on filming the journey —but the journey promptly reduces the trio to filthy drifters pushing a shopping cart of camera equipment. They get waylaid by a concerned citizen bearing a rifle; buy cocaine from an ex-wrestler; visit a spiritual medium; and attend a cuckold party. And we learn historical detail about how modern Florida came into being after World War II, and how it came to be a petri dish for life in an increasingly diverse new land of minority-majority cities. Russell has taken it all in and produced In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida (Knopf) a tome that is both an inspired travelogue and a profound rumination on the nation’s soul–and his own. Wildly vivid, encyclopedic, erudite, and ferociously irreverent, it’s a deeply ambivalent love letter to his sprawling, brazenly varied home state. Lauren Groff in The Atlantic called it “Sharp […] Brilliant […] I’ve never read an account of our gorgeous and messed-up state that is a more appropriate match of form and function… this feels like both the real and the true story of Florida.”

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