Literally Speaking in Maplewood and South Orange

By mark-slade March 4, 2011

Good Books, By Way of South Orange & Maplewood

Patch picks good reads for Read Across America week.

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Our literary roots run deep. Not only is the South Orange – Maplewood community home to numerous writers, but it’s the setting for many works of fiction.
Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos are finalists for a 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The husband-and-wife team from Maplewood were lauded for Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science in the Young Adult Literature category. Both have written numerous other books besides.
Josh Braff writes books, and his latest, Peep Show, brings him home. The Arbus family lives in Newstead in the mid-1970s, when the times they were a’changin’ in the country and in South Orange. Main character David Arbus is caught between his mother, whose Hasidic faith becomes central, and his father, who runs a Times Square adult theatre. Braff, himself, who lived in Newstead and married his seventh grade girlfriend, has family in the area, and brother Zach Braff makes memorable visits to town.
Well-known chef and television/radio personality Mike Colameco lived locally for a long time, and still swings by South Orange. His book, Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to New York City, is a look at the five boroughs of dining. From dress-up to off-the-cart, Colameco knows his food. Colameco is a former Seth Boyden parent who ran a restaurant in downtown Maplewood.
E. L. Doctorow spoke at Seton Hall recently, sharing a draft of “Assimilation,” which appears in a December issue of The New Yorker. Homer & Langley: A Novel is new in paperback. It tells the story of two brothers, one who has survived World War I abroad and the other who survived illness to become hoarders of their own past.
Maplewood’s Ellen Dreyer has authored many books. The Glow Stone is a good choice for teens. Fifteen-year-old Phoebe teaches readers a thing or two about rocks, ghosts, and self-acceptance.
John Cullen Gruesser is on the case. The South Orange literary sleuth uncovered the gems of the genre in a new book, A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories, 1841-1940. The anthology provides a sampling of some the best-known stories, plus works by lesser-known authors, and unknown mysteries.
It takes one Jersey guy to know another. James Kaplan, who grew up in South Orange and graduated from CHS, has authored Frank: The Voice. This biography of Frank Sinatra looks behind the celebrity to the man from Hoboken.
And if it’s fiction on the wish-list, I can recommend Kaplan’s Two Guys from Verona. It’s a funny, moving look at men’s friendship in a town much like our own. Yes, the clever title alludes to Shakespeare. But for old timers in the Garden State, it’s also a reminder of Two Guys, the department store where this writer bought a winter coat, the family’s first color TV, and a hamster, all in one shopping trip.
Irene Kelly speaks the language of birds in Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin. This nonfiction picture book describes look at 40 birds of the world and how they make their homes, including four types of birds that don’t build nests at all.
SWEDE: Weequahic’s Gentle Giant by Bob Masin is a son’s memoir of larger-than-life father who was the basis for Philip Roth’s character Seymour “Swede” Levov, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, American Pastoral. The Masin family lived in South Orange for decades; Bob Masin spoke last year at the South Orange Public Library, telling the story of this Weequahic native.
Miracle on High Street by South Orange’s own Thomas McCabe tells the story of St. Benedict’s, which has educated young men in Newark since 1874. The story of the school tells the history of Newark and the surrounding communities. It’s well worth a read, even if just for the description of monks watching the turmoil of ’67 from the school’s roof.
Maplewood resident Jon Michaud‘s debut novel, When Tito Met Clara, which will be published this week, is one of O Magazine’s 17 “Books to Watch for in March 2011.” The list ranges from memoir to fiction to non-fiction, and includes new and established writers. Michaud’s novel is set in a fictional community much like South Orange and Maplewood.
Belva Plain, a longtime South Orange resident, died in fall. Crossroads: A Novel will be published in January (and can be ordered now). Her first novel, Evergreen,was the subject of a talk she gave at the South Orange Public Library.
Philip Roth, whom we claim as a honorary local, offers Nemesis, set in Newark, just over the border. Roth’s main character resembles a well-known SHU athlete, according to some readers. And if it has been a while, or you’re choosing for a younger reader, Goodbye Columbus has a description of driving the length of South Orange Avenue that is worth the price of a paperback any day. It’s stunning to open this novella and remember how good he is at evoking our slice of New Jersey.
Meredith Sue Willis has South Orange ties and roots in Appalachia. Her West Virginia upbringing was inspiration for her new book of short stories, Out of the Mountains.
But wait! There are more local literary lights to choose from: