Reclaim the Jersey Shore With Good Reads This Summer

Reclaim the Jersey Shore With Good Reads This Summer

Rutgers–Camden authors discuss writing from and about the Garden State


Reading on Beach

No longer known first for its summer vacation options, the Jersey Shore is now synonymous with low-brow TV. But not just Snooki and the Situation live among us; a whole host of literary marvels write from and about New Jersey.  Rutgers–Camden authors are chiming in with not only who they are reading this summer, but what makes a great Garden State read.

Homegrown author Lauren Grodstein, an assistant professor of English at Rutgers–Camden and the author of the highly acclaimed novel A Friend of the Family (Algonquin Press, 2009), says in literature New Jersey can be a stand-in for two things: “either suburban homogeneity or wacky Jersey-shore/Sopranos type caricaturing.” She, of course, draws more from the former. “I think the best New Jersey literature captures the rhythms of the state, the class divisions between people who live so close together, the mash-up of ethnicities, the gentility of some of the older, more bucolic towns and the pressing urbanism of others,” says Grodstein, whose novel draws from shocking New Jersey events and will appear in paperback this fall. “The Garden State isn’t just one monolithic place, but a vibrant collision of cultures and expectations.”

Rutgers–Camden alumnus Paul Lisicky, author of Lawnboy and the memoir Famous Builder about growing up in Cherry Hill, agrees that being from New Jersey can be a powerful tool for a writer.

“People from New Jersey are used to being on the outskirts. We’re so close to the big cities, and sometimes it feels like life is out there. Though we talk about getting out, we secretly like where we are,” notes Lisicky, who set three of his four books in the Garden State. “You can learn a lot from being on the margins. I think we’re better watchers…We think for ourselves, because we have no other choice.”

Young adult novelist Carol Plum-Ucci, also a Rutgers–Camden alumna, doesn’t just read on the beach, she processes her writing there, too. “One day last summer I sat on the Margate Beach with a bunch of writer friends. One of them said, ‘Why would anyone want to live anywhere else’? We all agreed,” says the Brigantine native.  “I had one book I tried to set in Central Pennsylvania…After Lisa Zeidner’s writer’s workshop at Rutgers–Camden, I came home recharged with a gut instinct that I should move the story down to the shore.” That book was Plum-Ucci’s extremely successful second novel What Happened to Lani Garver, Amazon Editor’s #1 Choice in Teen Literature in 2002.

This summer, when basking on the beach from Asbury Park to Avalon, dot the shore with books true to New Jersey.

Grodstein recommends literary feasts like Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy: The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and Lady of the Land; Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus (among others); Rick Moody’s Garden State; and Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. She also suggests lighter reads like Janet Evanovich’s Trenton-based mysteries and Wallace Stroby’s thrillers that feature a former New Jersey state trooper.

For an eclectic collection of writings on New Jersey themes, Rutgers–Camden English professor Lisa Zeidner recommends What’s Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey, which includes works by notable New Jersey authors like Tom Perrota and Joyce Carol Oates.  Zeidner also champions Frank Reiken’s The Lost Legends of New Jersey and the humorous I Shudder and Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey by Paul Rudnick.

Better still, pull the plug on reality TV and meet “The Real Literati of New Jersey” during the Rutgers–Camden Summer Writers’ Conference’s free reading series.  At 1 p.m. Monday, June 21, through Tuesday, June 29, readings in the Stedman Gallery on the Camden Campus will feature nearly a dozen authors, including Lisicky and Pulitzer Prize-winning New Jersey poet Stephen Dunn.  Aspiring writers from Rutgers–Camden’s MFA program will read their works at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 30 in the Campus Center’s executive dining room.


Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan
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