LIVINGSTON, NJ — After hundreds of Livingston-area residents read his 30th novel, “Don’t Let Go,” New York Times Bestselling mystery and suspense author and Livingston High School (LHS) Class of 1980 graduate Harlan Coben returned to his alma mater on Monday to lead the first-ever Livingston Community Book Club, sponsored by the Livingston Education Foundation (LEF).
Coben, who is no stranger to book signings and discussions, said this event was especially unique thanks to the many relatives, fellow alumni and neighbors who came out to support him. He added that he was mind-blown by the participation within the community and was excited to return to the stage where he once joked through his Student Council President speech as a high school senior.
“A book without a reader is like a man who only claps with one hand,” he said. “You guys are the other hand and that’s still what drives me—I create the people in this story, but they don’t come to life until they’re in your hand. That’s why I love to sell books; it’s just the coolest one-on-one experience. That’s the magic, and to come back after all these years is really heady—it’s a swirl of emotions.”
The community-wide book club is the brainchild of LEF President Greer Gelman, a Collins Elementary School teacher and LHS Class of 1990 graduate, who could think of no one better than Coben to help get the program started. The members of the LEF, whose mission with this program is to promote literacy across the community, recruited more than 500 participants for their first book club event.
“The LEF is an organization designed to support the Livingston Public Schools and is also an avenue for keeping alumni connected to the town,” said Gelman. “When asked to join the board of education members to reinvent this fantastic organization, we decided a great way to begin would be by bringing the community together, and that’s exactly what we are doing tonight.”
LHS Principal Mark Stern presented Coben, a former captain of the LHS boys basketball team, with a Lancers basketball jersey to commemorate his return to the school before introducing him to the crowd.
Coben discussed where he gets his ideas as well as what it really takes to be a successful novelist—two of his most frequently asked questions. After joking that “there’s a boutique in the village that sells [ideas],” Coben gave specific examples like an overheard conversation between teenagers about drinking and driving, which sparked the idea for his novel “Promise,” and the rumors about Riker Hill Art Park, which sparked the idea for “Don’t Let Go.”
“The truth is anything can stimulate an idea,” said Coben. “Usually they come from something in my real life that I twist around. Fiction writing is asking, ‘What If?’
“In the case of ‘Don’t Let Go,’ it started from a couple of places, but mostly growing up in this crazy town. The two weird things about this town growing up were the rumors about what is now the Riker Hill Park and the Boiardo House. Those have always sort of stayed on my mind, and even as a kid I always was making up stories about that and I’ve always wanted to write about it.”
According to Coben, who enjoys sharing writing tips with aspiring authors, the three qualities that make a good writer are inspiration, perspiration and desperation.
“Only sitting in a chair and putting words on paper or a computer counts as writing—everything else is Flotsam and Jetsam,” said Coben. “There’s always a voice, whatever I’m doing, that says, ‘You should be home writing.’ That voice never goes away, and if you don’t have that voice and you want to be a writer, you’re probably not going to be a writer.”
Coben kept the crowd laughing throughout his presentation, picking on some of his old classmates while also letting the audience in on some of the little-known secrets behind his books. He joked about mishaps with the cover art on early novels and some of the people who inspired the characters in others.
After fielding questions from the audience, Coben thanked the community for its support, the high school for hosting the event and Gelman for organizing it and for being a “huge asset to the town.” He remained on stage after the event to sign books and meet with fans.
“The Harlan Coben event was a terrific evening that brought our community together,” said resident Mike Ramer. “Harlan was very funny and told great stories about growing up in Livingston and his days at LHS. I’m looking forward to more Livingston Book Club events.”
In addition to being a No. 1 New York Times Bestselling author, Coben is also an LHS Hall of Fame inductee and still lives in New Jersey—often making local references in his work. He has more than 70 million books in print worldwide, has books published in 43 languages around the globe and has had No. 1 Best Sellers in more than a dozen countries. He has previously won the prestigious Edgar, Shamus and Anthony awards, and is the first author to have won all three.
Coben is also the creator and executive producer of the the popular British drama series “The Five" as well as the upcoming Netflix Original Drama “Safe.”
In order to continue its mission to provide school-community partnerships, mentoring and shared funding to enhance education opportunities for Livingston students, the LEF hopes to continue the book club series in the near future.
“Many of us here have either been raised in Livingston ourselves or have raised families in Livingston,” said Gelman. “It’s amazing how many people choose to return to Livingston to raise their own families. It is the quality of education in our town that brings so many people back and the overwhelming sense of community that makes Livingston a forever home for so many of us.”
Throughout this process, the LEF worked closely with “[words] Bookstore,” an independent bookstore currently located in Maplewood and coming soon to Livingston. The bookstore will become a part of LifeTown, a 53,000-square-foot center for individuals with special needs coming to 10 Microlab Road.
Coben urged residents to support this new addition to Livingston, stating that all great towns should have an independent bookstore and that these facilities make the community better.
Gelman encouraged the community to support the LEF by sending donations via PayPal to paypal.me/LEFlivingston, Venmo to @LEF-Livingston or at www.livingston.org/lef.