Books

What We’re Reading This Summer




By Shelley Noble
(William Morrow)

The latest beach read from Jersey Shore resident Shelley Noble tells a story of family, secrecy and self-discovery. The novel centers on Zoe Bascombe, a woman who, up to now, has never disobeyed her family’s wishes. Following the death of her mother, Zoe learns some secrets from her mother’s hidden past. As questions and feuds abound, the one certainty is that answers lie at fictional Wind Chime Beach.—JT

By Julia Phillips
(Knopf)

In Montclair-raised Julia Phillips’s engrossing debut novel, two sisters disappear on Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Clues to their fate are found in the interconnected stories of the women who continue to search for the sisters long after the police have stopped. The tale of hope and survival is juxtaposed with a voyage through alluring, transportive scenery.—SV

By Mark DiIonno
(Touchstone)

Veteran journalist and author Mark DiIonno explores fame, parenting and middle-aged sexuality in this novel about two men—one ordinary, one extraordinary—as they hurtle toward a confrontation at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The action toggles between Cooperstown, New York, and northern New Jersey—familiar turf for DiIonno, a former sportswriter and longtime Star-Ledger columnist.—KS

By Davon Loeb
(Everytime Press)

In his debut collection of essays, Medford resident Davon Loeb wrestles with his identity as a biracial man and what it means to grow up in a fractured family. He recounts stories from his suburban South Jersey childhood and adolescence, during which he often felt like an outcast caught between two cultures. In the process of exploring the stories he’s inherited, Loeb finds his own transformative narrative.—SV

By Dale Berra
(Hachette)

Dale Berra, the youngest of Yogi Berra’s three sons, was bound for stardom before trashing his baseball career in a fog of cocaine abuse. Berra’s memoir is both a candid self-examination of his addiction issues and a loving reflection on his famous father’s achievements as baseball legend and family man. Berra wisely steers clear of Yogisms, but provides plenty of star-studded anecdotes.—KS

By Joyce Carol Oates
(Mysterious Press)

Novelist and Princeton resident Joyce Carol Oates takes readers on an intricate journey through the mind, exploring its fragility and the line between sanity and insanity. In this collection of six unnerving stories, Oates examines our darker impulses, from sex to violence. Each story encourages readers to meditate on how these impulses shape lives.—JT

By John McPhee
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Princeton professor John McPhee took 56 of the pieces he has written in a six-decade career and edited them down to his favorite parts, some only paragraphs long. The title piece is an homage to his father’s fishing habits. There are celebrities—including Sophia Loren—and pieces about the Earth’s vital places, all serving as patchwork in the quilt of an iconic writer’s life.—RS

By Dorothea Benton Frank
(William Morrow)

The author, a part-time New Jersey resident, crafts a story about love and redemption through the viewpoint of a devout South Carolina beekeeper. While caring for her demanding mother and tending her hives, Holly McNee Kensen develops a bond with her neighbor, a recent widower. The relationship blooms, but not without complications. Queen Bee is a warm, wise and hilarious tale with a pinch of whodunit.—DM

By Mark Kram Jr.
(Ecco)

From Haddonfield resident and sports journalist Mark Kram Jr., this biography of boxing legend Joe Frazier delves into the athlete’s rivalry with Muhammad Ali—and more. It follows Frazier from South Carolina, where he was born into rural poverty, to Philadelphia, where he learned to fight, and through his post-retirement life. Transcending sports, Smokin’ Joe offers an intimate look at race and class in a divided America.—SV

By Stephanie Evanovich
(William Morrow)

After relocating from Ohio to New York City, Zoey Sullivan builds a catering business and basks in her independence apart from her estranged husband. Zoey helps one of her clients, a socially awkward millionaire, overcome his shortcomings, but falls in love with him in the process. New Jersey-born author Stephanie Evanovich serves classic romance, charm, sincerity and wit in this modern twist on My Fair Lady.—DM

By Marcy Dermanksy
(Knopf)

Set in what’s recognizable as the post-Obama era, Montclair author Marcy Dermansky’s newest novel involves contemporary cultural touchstones: the threat of a school shooting, a messy mother-daughter-professor love triangle, and the complicated world of Manhattan investment banking. But it’s also deeply, darkly humorous. Read our profile of Dermansky from the July issue.—SV

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In New Book, Marcy Dermansky Finds the Fun in Serious Matters


Marcy Dermansky and her new book. Photo courtesy of Michael Lionstar



Above all else, Marcy Dermansky wants to entertain her readers, but also herself.

“Writing that’s fun gets a bad rap,” says the Montclair resident, who admits she sometimes loses interest in a writing project if she’s not amused by it. Dermansky’s latest novel, Very Nice, due July 2 from Knopf, is a serious book disguised as a funny one. Set in what’s recognizable as the post-Obama era, it involves contemporary cultural touchstones: the threat of a school shooting, a messy mother-daughter-professor love triangle, and the complicated world of Manhattan investment banking. But it’s also deeply, darkly humorous.

“I wanted things to be like a soap opera,” says Dermansky. The result is an attention-grabbing narrative featuring many interconnected characters and storylines. It’s a book that demands to be binge-read with as much urgency and obsession as Dermansky wrote it. What started as a short story for the now defunct online feminist newsletter Lenny Letter quickly snowballed into a full manuscript. “I pretty much wrote it after the [2016] election,” she says. “It wouldn’t leave my mind.”

The author of three previous novels, including The Red Car (2016) and Bad Marie (2010), Dermansky traces her Jersey influences to Englewood, where she grew up.

After living and working among her literary peers in New York City for years, Dermansky returned to her home state three years ago, settling in Montclair, where she now lives with her daughter, and where she’s grateful to have found a new, supportive community of writers.

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Camden Celebrates Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday


Poet Walt Whitman called Camden his home from 1873 until his death in 1892. His roamings around New Jersey included a day trip to Atlantic City, which inspired him with its “uninterrupted space.” Bettman/Getty Images

“I celebrate myself, and I sing myself,” Walt Whitman declared in Song of Myself, one of his earliest poems. Camden is taking that sentiment to heart with a celebration of the legendary poet’s 200th birthday on May 31.

“Camden gave Whitman an environment where he could reflect on the world,” says Leo Blake, curator of the Walt Whitman House, a National Historic Landmark. Born on Long Island, Whitman moved to Camden in 1873 at the age of 53, staying with his brother, George. He purchased his house at 328 Mickle Boulevard (now 328 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in 1884 for $1,750. During his Camden years, Whitman published Specimen Days, a collection of essays that includes his observations about the Civil War, and updated his most famous collection, Leaves of Grass, three times.

Whitman also found time to explore South Jersey. Two of his poems—Patrolling Barnegat and With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea!—were inspired by visits to the Jersey Shore. He made a day trip to Atlantic City by train in January 1879. A horse-and-carriage ride on the beach left him marveling at “the uninterrupted space, shore, salt atmosphere [and] sky.”

The poet’s impact was international. Irish authors Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker visited him in Camden. Wilde, then 27, met with Whitman in January 1882, and the two discussed their craft over homemade elderberry wine. Wilde was unrestrained in his praise of Whitman. “Of all your authors, I consider Walt Whitman the grandest and noblest,” he told the Boston Herald.

The Camden celebration includes legacy tours of the Whitman house from May 22–June 8, and “Democratic Vistas: Whitman, Body and Soul,” an exhibit of photos, paintings, glassworks and sculptures that runs May 30–December 7 in the Stedman Gallery on the Rutgers-Camden campus. For a complete list of events, visit whitmanat200.org/calendar.

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A Children’s Book Inspired by an Unlikely Friendship


It started with an unlikely friendship. Between cats. When Marie Unanue noticed that her neighbor’s chic and exotic cat, Payaso, enjoyed hanging out with Phatty, her own overweight, scrappy rescue cat, she sensed something special.

“Here was this beautiful cat coming by daily to visit my adopted, 28-pound cat,” says Unanue. “I watched them interact, and I saw it as an example that being different is okay, and you can be a friend no matter what.”

The observation inspired the Toms River native to write The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park, not only chronicling their adventures, but addressing the topic of bullying. “As a child I was bullied. I can remember what it felt like to not fit in at times,” she says.

Unanue’s book sends a positive message to children. “I wanted to give examples of forgiveness, empathy and compassion, while giving the kids a fun story,” she says. Self-published last year—with illustrations by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez—the book has sold more than 10,000 copies. Unanue has visited elementary schools in New Jersey and around the country, spreading her message of kindness to young children. She challenges them to perform an act of kindness every day—anything from helping a friend with homework to pitching in with household chores.

“The book has become my launching pad to something much bigger,” says Unanue, whose kindness challenge is explained on her website, letsallbekind.com.

Unanue is working on a sequel in the Mantoloking home she shares with husband Andy and their three dogs and two cats. She donates all proceeds from book sales to charity.

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Marie Kondo’s Army of Organization Experts


If you’re a neatnik, you might already be a fan of the KonMari method of household tidying. This trend, which was introduced by Japanese home-organization expert Marie Kondo in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and recently sparked buzz on the new Netflix series, “Tidying Up,” has inspired countless pack rats to rid themselves of belongings that do not inspire joy. Bric-a-brac has no home here. (See below for donation resources.)

Around the world, Kondo’s army of certified KonMari consultants is helping the untidy among us to fold T-shirts into tiny squares and organize closet wardrobes by colors of the rainbow.

We caught up with New Jersey’s first bronze-level KonMari-certified consultant, Cassidy Nasello of Montclair, to get the scoop on this phenomenon. To achieve bronze status, Nasello oversaw more than 50 tidying sessions. She is well on her way to silver status, which requires 100 sessions.

“My word-of-mouth business has been very busy since the KonMari method debuted on Netflix in January,” Nasello says. “People naturally attach a lot of emotion to their things, and this makes letting go complicated. As a consultant and neutral person, I encourage clients to keep only things that make them truly happy. Then, looking at each space logically, with fresh eyes, I help clients put things back in a tidy, sustainable way.” KonMari consultants also encourage clients to transform their lives by replacing old shopping habits with healthy habits to achieve long-term goals.

To contact a KonMari tidying professional, visit konmari.com.


WHERE TO DONATE

Market Street Mission accepts clothing, furniture, housewares, artwork and more.

Goodwill Stores accepts clothing, books, records, bedding and other household items. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters will pick up clothing, accessories, media equipment, housewares and toys.

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How a Kid from Hoboken Revolted Against Nazism


Before he made headlines around the world for taking part in what a new book calls “the first American uprising against Nazism,” Bill Bailey was just another Depression-era kid from Hudson County’s waterfront slums. Life was tough. Seven of his siblings did not survive infancy.

Bailey “was formed by the bitter struggles of his young days in the most depressed quarters of Jersey City and Hoboken,” says author Peter Duffy, whose new book, The Agitator (PublicAffairs), charts Bailey’s journey from poverty to activism.

Like many in 1930s America, young Bill Bailey was drawn to radical politics. While working as a merchant seaman, he became a union organizer. Bailey was outraged in 1935 when the German luxury liner SS Bremen sailed into New York. The Bremen “was the flagship of Hitler’s commercial armada,” Duffy writes, “a technical and aesthetic marvel regarded by the world as the waterborne embodiment of German nationhood.”

Bailey, just 20, and a band of labor and Communist pals hatched a plot to sneak onto the Bremen and—despite tight security—tear down the vessel’s billowing swastika flag and heave it into the Hudson River. They succeeded—but were promptly arrested and charged with felonious assault, unlawful assembly and other offenses.

Bailey was daring America to join him in taking “a firmer stand against this menacing [Nazi] reality,” as he later wrote in a self-published memoir.  

Following a circus-like trial, Bailey was acquitted, which outraged the German government. He would go on to fight in the Spanish Civil War and serve in the Merchant Marine during World War II before moving to the West Coast to work as a longshoreman. Yet when it came time to sum up his colorful life (he died in 1995), this “agitator” called his memoir The Kid from Hoboken.

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“City of Champions” Honors Garfield Football Star Benny Babula


Courtesy of Freedom 365





When Hank Gola was growing up in Garfield, there was no greater legend than Benny Babula.

Babula owned a meat-distribution business in the Bergen County city. “We kids would go over to the place and marvel at how he would throw a big side of beef over his shoulders,” says Gola, a former sportswriter for the New York Post and New York Daily News.

But Babula’s legend was based on more than beef. In his high school days, Babula was the best football player in Garfield history. On one incredible Christmas day in 1939, he led Garfield High School to a 16-13 victory over Miami High at the Orange Bowl, in what was acknowledged as a national-championship game. Babula, at tailback, ran 25 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, completed 6 of 10 passes, and kicked the winning field goal.

What started as a feature for the Daily News became Gola’s passion, and ultimately a book, City of Champions (Tatra Press, 2018), which exhaustively details Babula’s heroics and Garfield’s memorable season. 

“It was a tale sent down from father to son,” says Gola, who lives in Parsippany/Troy Hills.

Gola’s book captures the struggles of Depression-era Garfield, a blue-collar hive of Italian and Polish immigrants and their families, and tracks the wartime and postwar lives of their 1939 football heroes.

“I just wanted to leave a gift to my town,” says the author.

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Getting to Know Novelist Jonathan Miles


Jonathan Miles wrote his latest novel, "Anatomy of a Miracle," in the solitude of the primitive shed he built from old shipping pallets on his property in the Delaware River town of Milford.

Jonathan Miles wrote his latest novel, “Anatomy of
a Miracle,” in the solitude of the primitive shed he built from old shipping pallets on his property in the Delaware River town of Milford.
Photo by Frank Veronsky





Novelist Jonathan Miles is so deft a thinker, he has no problem drawing parallels between New Jersey and his onetime home state of Mississippi.

“I know this will sort of raise some eyebrows,” says Miles, who writes in an 8-by-8 shack he built out of shipping pallets on his property in Milford, along the Delaware. “But New Jersey is like Mississippi in the sense that it’s a victim of stereotype. To crib from one of our greatest New Jersey poets”—namely, Walt Whitman—“it contains multitudes.” 

Miles, 47, discovered those multitudes in 2011, when he started hanging out three miles up the road in Frenchtown with fellow novelist Elizabeth Gilbert. 

“Liz is an old friend,” he says. “She actually recruited me to live here.”

Mostly, Gilbert turned on Miles to Hunterdon County’s solitude. His 1734 farmhouse—shared with his wife, Catherine, a wine importer, and their three kids, a 13-year-old daughter and two sons, 15 and 11—sits on the edge of a 300-acre nature conservancy. Miles’s third novel, Anatomy of a Miracle (Hogarth, 2018), about a paraplegic Army veteran who miraculously starts walking again, was written entirely in the shack. It’s newly available in paperback. 

“I live on top of a hill, and I try not to leave the hill,” says Miles. “I love it here. I’m pretty close to a hermit.”  

Photo by Frank Veronsky

Though influenced by Southern authors like the late Larry Brown, whom he met several years after running away at age 17 to Oxford, Mississippi, from his hometown of Cleveland, Miles has been in the Northeast for more than a decade. With Catherine and the kids, he  lived in Rockland County, New York, in the years before his 2008 debut novel, Dear American Airlines, landed him on the literary map. They made the jump to Milford by the time his second novel, Want Not, arrived in 2013. The move to Milford feels permanent. Still, not everyone is convinced that what goes on in his “tight but cozy” space is real work.

“My kids laugh at me,” he says. “They say I go into a shed in our yard and talk to myself with my imaginary friends.”

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Author Dani Shapiro Chronicles Her New Origin Story in New Book


Dani Shapiro at her home in Connecticut. Photo courtesy of Michael Maren





Author Dani Shapiro wasn’t expecting any major revelations when she spit into a tube and sent off her DNA for analysis through a genealogy website. So when the results came back showing that her father was not her biological father, Shapiro was floored. “The rug was pulled out from under me,” she says. “It seemed out of the question.”

The blue-eyed and blonde-haired Shapiro, who grew up in a Modern Orthodox Jewish household in Hillside, was often told she didn’t look the part. “I didn’t look Jewish,” she says. “I looked like I came from another part of the world.” But at no point did she expect a family secret as big as this one.

Photo courtesy of the publisher.

A mere 36 hours after reading the results, Shapiro was able to identify the man who was her biological father, or at least the sperm donor. What followed was a life-changing journey, a full investigation of her own identity and belonging that she chronicles in her new memoir, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, due January 15 from Knopf.

“As a memoirist, writer and journalist, I’ve been digging for the truth my entire life,” says Shapiro, the author of four previous memoirs and five novels. “There are some ways in which I was writing toward or around this all my life.”

Without living parents to ask for the answers, Shapiro went looking wherever she could, including to Philadelphia, where she had been conceived at a fertility clinic. “I was consumed with what my parents knew,” she says. “Did they actively keep information from me, or did the institute not tell my parents?”

Shapiro hopes the story of her discovery reaches others with similar experiences. “I’ve never felt so excited for a book before,” she says. “It has a purpose.”

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