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Summer with New Jersey books and authors

Lucy the ElephantSummer in New Jersey? Whether you are staycationing or longing to come back to campus, we’ve got you covered! Browse our summer reading recommendations below until the reopening of Rutgers University Libraries, including its predominantly print Recreational Reading Collection and Sinclair New Jersey Collection, the largest, most comprehensive collection of New Jersey materials in the state.

Did you know that James Fenimore Cooper, author of the Leatherstocking Tales, was born in Burlington, NJ? Did you know that the last American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison, taught writing and literature at Princeton University? So does New Jersey’s most prolific author, Joyce Carol Oates, a visiting professor at Rutgers in the 2020 Spring semester, whose public lecture in April will be rescheduled. A Rutgers graduate, Junot Diaz, won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Did you know, that since the Late Show with Stephen Colbert turned into A Late Show with Stephen at Home due to the pandemic, it has been broadcast from his home in Montclair, NJ? How about Bruce Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography Born to Run, which sheds light on the origin and emotional life of New Jersey’s most beloved singer-songwriter?  (As a bonus, the audiobook is narrated by the Boss himself — listen to the excerpt or borrow it from your public library!)

Where can you find all these New Jersey authors? Other than an exhaustive Wikipedia entry by town, you can check out the ongoing list, maintained by the New Jersey Stare Library, of authors and illustrators born in or associated with New Jersey, including links to the authors’ website. Alongside Cooper, Morrison, Oates, and Diaz, literary giants on the list include poets Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, and novelists Stephen Crane, Norman Mailer, and Philip Roth (the Newark area is especially prominent in Roth’s work). Clicking on the names will bring the full results of the author’s work available at RUL. Once on the web page, you may want to limit to “Available online” for current access.

Summer is the perfect time to “read Jersey” and get familiar with “Jerseyana.”  When it comes to summer reading or New Jersey nostalgia, a variety of contemporary authors and genres come to mind. The vivid scenes from the suburbs of New Jersey describe New Jerseyans (or New Jersyites, as you like it) trying to live their lives and do the right thing, with plenty of details providing the comfort of familiarity. However, beware of side effects and get ready to laugh! The narrative occasionally reminds us of those grocery store t-shirts with New Jersey clichés about pizza snobs and Taylor Ham-Pork Roll debates, the Jersey shore and diners, pumping gas and shopping at malls, and last but not least, sarcasm as a birthright.

If the above recommendations were not the right ones for the summer heat, how about some comedies, crime or suspense novels, or crime comedies until you can get hold of some old copies of Weird New Jersey? For example, one of the popular authors in book clubs, Harlan Coben, who was born in Newark, NJ, and still lives and writes in New Jersey, set many of his novels in the New Jersey suburbs that he knows very well. He often uses real Jersey locations with the most accurate details, which makes his stories authentic, enjoyable, and easily relatable for the New Jersey reader.

Another bestseller author, the Douglass graduate Janet Evanovich, places her average-Jersey-girl protagonist in Trenton, where bad thing happens to good, average, and bad people, as they should in a crime comedy. Perfectly imitating the pronunciation of New Jersey’s ethnically diverse population in the audiobooks, the British narrator, Lorelei King proves the cliché that “there’s no Jersey accent – you’re just pronouncing it wrong.”  Available on most audiobook platforms, and some of them on YouTube, these books can serve as a great resource of listening comprehension for international students or anyone relocating to “Joizy.”