And the winner is…

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, chose the winner for the giveaway of a signed paperback edition of his book. I had asked people to make a comment about marriage for a chance to win, and boy, did I get comments! Some were thoughtful, some were funny, some insightful and some snarky. But the winning entry was from Yasmin, who said the following (she practically wrote a book herself!):

“I’ve been married for 17 years. I was previously engaged to someone who was killed by a drunk driver. My fiancee then was my soul mate and I honestly didn’t think I would ever find another good man who could love me the way that he did. Especially since we had known each other for 12 years…had been through breakups and split-ups from others…before we ever thought that just maybe we as two really good BFF should be dating. My world came crashing down when he was killed!


At that time, my husband was just a male friend…but a friend in deed…who knew that I was working 60-80 hour weeks to kill the pain. He would stop by ever so often to check on me and make sure that I was taking care of myself. He also started to ask me out…he knew that I enjoyed going to the movies so we had a movie date every Friday and Saturday…I can’t believe that we found that many good movies to see…lol.


One day I looked up and realized that he had a lot of good traits and he was someone that I could fall in love with it if I allowed myself to do so. But it was a little scary and I realized that I hesitated and was a little afraid because he reminded me so much of my dead fiancee.

Hubby/ We started dating and 9 months later we were married. We will celebrate our 17th anniversary on October 5th. Together we’ve had two kids, purchased two homes, gone through I don’t know how many job changes…including me leaving a very good job after 13 years because…sigh…the death of parents and grandparents…a bout with breast cancer I’m an 8 year survivor and even tho’ my husband is a breast man…if it was the breast or me…well he chose Me…I could have reconstructive surgery but he could never get another me…and with a name like Yasmin…you must know that I’m very unique and no one even comes close to being me.

Marriage is accepting each other as you are…in sickness and in health…for richer for poorer…for better for worst.

Marriage …when it’s good…it’s real good…and it’s like hanging out with your BFF!

I hope to spend the rest of my life with my husband…because honestly I can be a diva to live with and no one else understands me the way he does.”

Congratulations, Yasmin! I will email you to get your address.

Do you have a book group that is interested in reading Matrimony? Would you like to enhance your meeting with a phone chat with the author? Here is an open letter to book groups, from Joshua Henkin:

I also wanted to let you know about a special time-bound offer that my publisher, Vintage, is making to book groups. Sign up by midnight September 30 and Vintage will set up a phone chat for your book group with me to discuss MATRIMONY. Normally, only five book groups are chosen among the entrants, but I have agreed to talk to all book groups that sign up. Here’s the link to learn more, and to sign up. I would be delighted to talk to your book group.

Authors- They’re Just Like US! #1

One of the glossy magazines dedicated to celebrities (Us Weekly, I believe) has a regular feature showing famous people doing everyday things.  I like seeing rockstars picking up their drycleaning or box office sweethearts biting their nails.  I’m just a voyeur that way.  It’s interesting to see that in some ways they’re ordinary people, just like us. 

In writing this blog I’ve been able to correspond with authors, MY celebrities- MY rockstars, and I began to wonder about them.  Do they like the same books I like?  What do they recommend to their friends?  I don’t have the resources to hire the paparazzi to follow them around and peek into their bedrooms to see what’s on their nightstands, so I decided to pose the same 5 questions to a number of authors.  I got so many great responses that I’ve decided to tackle each question in a separate post.

Question #1- AUTHORS:  WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale:  Firehouse  by David Halberstam.

Jennie Shortridge , author of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe: A rather odd juxtaposition of fiction and nonfiction:  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. 

Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience:  When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Megan Crane, author of Names My Sisters Call Me:  Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  It’s the latest Lynley mystery, and now that I know George will, in fact, kill off longterm characters, I know that no one is safe! 

Jasmin Rosenberg, author of How the Other Half Hamptons:  The Divorce Party” by Laura Dave, after devouring her debut novel “London is the Best City in America”

Edward Hardy, author of Keeper and Kid:  A Voyage Long and Strange  by Tony Horwitz. 

Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters:   Dirty Words, edited by Ellen Sussman, which contains so many pieces that are funny, surprisingly sweet, and undeniably sexy.  And The Divorce Party, by Laura Dave, which is an incredibly moving story of two women sorting out how to go forward with or without the men in their lives.

Alan Cheuse, author of To Catch the Lightning:  Lost in Uttar Pradesh: New and Selected Stories  by Evan Connell, an old master, and stories by new Irish writer Claire Keegan, a real prodigy (Keegan’s book is titled Walk the Blue Fields).

Mathias Freese, author of Down to a Sunless Sea:  I’m about to begin reading Montaigne’s essays, in part, because Eric Hoffer claimed he learned about writing essays from this master. 

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:  Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.  A terrific novel. 

Susan Woodring  , author of Springtime on Mars:  An Invisible Sign of My Own  by Aimee Bender (I’m on a Bender kick.)

Doreen Orion, author of Queen of the Road:  I’m currently reading a novel by Marisa De Los Santos, LOVE WALKED IN.  The last bookstore I did one of my reading/signing/royal shticks at, A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, gives authors who do events a choice of any book in the store as a gift.  So, I asked what they particularly loved and this was it.  I started it on the plane back last night and I can see why. 

Don’t you just love knowing that Meg Clayton is reading Dirty Words, or that Doreen Orion is reading that Marisa de los Santos book you’ve been eyeing, or that Alan Cheuse is reading Walk the Blue Fields (which, by the way, has a stunning cover- I may have to get it just for that!)? 

Next time we’ll see what books authors couldn’t/didn’t finish reading, and why.  I’ve been known to abandon a book now and then, so I’m very curious to see what books authors let go of before the end.

So..what are YOU reading?  

Review: Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin is a calm, quiet novel without a lot of flash or fuss.  It’s strength lies in the writing. 

**WARNING!  SPOILERS AHEAD!  PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!!

What is this book about?  Well.. hmmm.  Matrimony is about marriage, sort of.  It’s more about friendship, college life, and writers. 

Two guys- Julian, who is rich, and Carter, at Graymont College thanks to a scholarship- are the most talented students in a writing workshop and soon become best friends, although money is always an issue between them.  Carter has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and seems to resent Julian for his family’s wealth.   But they remain friends and move through their college years together, each finding love (first Carter with Pilar, then Julian with “Mia from Montreal” who the friends first discovered in the school’s facebook). 

The story centers on Mia and Julian, who are serious from the start.  In their senior year, Mia’s mom is diagnosed with cancer.  She asks Julian to marry her so that her mother can attend the wedding before she dies.  I really wanted to attend the wedding too, but the reader doesn’t get to be there.  It is skipped right over, which I found odd considering the title, Matrimony!  We do hear a little bit about it later in the book, thankfully.  Carter and Pilar get married too, but the reader finds out after the fact and the wedding is not written about. 

One thing this author does very, very well is write about grief.  The scenes with Mia and her mom are poignant, touching, and raw but not melodramatic.  We feel Mia’s suffering acutely. 

The novel picks up three years after the wedding in Ann Arbor, where Mia is in grad school to become a psychotherapist.  Julian is teaching and working on his novel (and will be for years) and feels he doesn’t quite fit in with Mia and her friends, all students.  On the occasion of his graduation from law school, Julian visits his old friend Carter in California, where he learns he and Pilar have separated.  A long buried secret is revealed which threatens their friendship and Julian’s marriage.

I felt like this secret needed to be discussed, but Mia and Julian shut down and many things are left unsaid, which I suppose happens a lot in long term relationships.  But I wanted there to be more emotion, more talking-yelling-negotiation-FEELING than what was there.  I also felt that in a real marriage, this sort of 9 year old secret, after years of a seemingly good marriage, could have been forgiven.  Marriage is about compromise, isn’t it?  But Mia and Julian separate with almost no discussion about it, and when Julian returns 18 months later, there is very little discussion about that either. 

Matrimony is well written, honest and appealing.  We follow Mia and Julian through nearly two decades.  We watch them grow and mature, and witness their love, laughter, families, friendships, sadness, grief and anger, in other words- their marriage.  So I guess Matrimony IS about marriage after all. 

Joshua Henkin frequently makes himself available for author chats with book clubs.  His website can be found HERE

For a chance to win a copy of Matrimony, see author Josh Henkin’s guest post HERE and leave a comment by May 15th.

Matrimony was also reviewed by Dewey here, Care here, Heather here and Julie here.

 

Guest Blogger: Author Joshua Henkin Talks about Book Groups

In conjunction with a giveaway of a signed, first edition hardcover copy of Matrimony, author Joshua Henkin is sitting in as a guest blogger at Books on the Brain.  Leave a comment on this post by May 15th for a chance to win!

These days, when my four-year-old daughter sees me putting on my coat, she says, “Daddy, are you going to a book group or just a reading?”  My daughter doesn’t really know what a book group is, but in that phrase “just a reading” she has clearly absorbed my own attitude, which is that, given the choice between giving a public reading and visiting a book group, I would, without hesitation, choose the latter.

I say this as someone who has never been in a book group (I’m a novelist and a professor of fiction writing, so my life is a book group), and also as someone who, when my new novel MATRIMONY was published last October, never would have imagined that, seven months later, I’d have participated in approximately forty book group discussions (some in person, some by phone, some on-line), with fifteen more scheduled in the months ahead.  And this is while MATRIMONY is still in hardback.  With the paperback due out at the end of August, my life might very well become a book group.

Part of this is due to the fact that my novel is particularly suited to book groups.  MATRIMONY is about a marriage (several marriages, really), and it takes on issues of infidelity, career choice, sickness and health, wealth and class, among other things.  There is, in other words, a good deal of material for discussion, which is why my publisher, Pantheon/Vintage, has published a reading groups guide and why MATRIMONY has been marketed to book groups.

But I am really part of a broader phenomenon, which is that, as The New York Times noted a few months ago, publishers—and authors—are beginning to recognize the incredible clout of book groups.  I recently was told that an estimated five million people are members of book groups, and even if that estimate is high, there’s no doubt that book groups have the power to increase a novel’s sales, often exponentially.  I’m talking not just about Oprah’s book group, but about the web of book groups arrayed across the country that communicate with one another by word of mouth, often without even realizing it. 

I make no bones about this:  I participate in book group discussions of MATRIMONY in order to sell more copies of my book.  But there’s a paradox here.  On several occasions, I’ve driven over four hours round-trip to join a book group discussion of MATRIMONY.  You add enough of these trips together and it’s not surprising that my next novel, which was due at the publisher last month, is nowhere near complete.  I have spent the last year publicizing MATRIMONY as a way of furthering my writing life (writers need to sell books in order to survive), and yet what I love to do most—write—has had to be placed on hold.

I say this without a trace of resentment.  I lead a charmed life.  I get to write novels and have other people read them, and if I, like most writers, need to do more than was once required of us to ensure that people read our books—if writers now are more like musicians—then so be it.  And in the process, thanks to book groups, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting far more readers than I could have imagined and have learned a lot more than I expected.

So I want to speak up on behalf of book groups, and to offer a few cautions, and a few hopes.  First the good news.  From coast to coast and in between, I’ve found a huge number of careful readers from all ages and backgrounds who have noticed things about my novel that I myself hadn’t noticed, who have asked me questions that challenge me, and who have helped me think about my novel (and the next novel I’m working on) in ways that are immensely helpful.  I’ve certainly learned more from book groups than from the critics, not because book group members are smarter than the critics (though often they are!), but because there’s more time for sustained discussion with a book group, and because for many people the kind of reading they do for a book group marks a significant departure from the rest of their lives, and so they bring to the enterprise a great degree of passion.

Speaking of passion:  I don’t want to give away what happens in MATRIMONY, but something takes place toward the middle of the book that has, to my surprise and pleasure, spawned shouting matches in a number of book groups.  I haven’t been one of the shouters, mind you, but I’ve been struck by the fact that MATRIMONY has proven sufficiently controversial to make readers exercised.  I’ve been trying to determine patterns.  Sometimes the divisions have been drawn along age lines; other times along lines of gender—on those few occasions when there is another man in the room besides myself!

Which leads me to my hopes, and my cautions.  First, where are all the men?  True, my novel is called MATRIMONY, but men get married too, at more or less the same rate as women do.  Yet my experience has been that women read fiction and men read biographies of civil war heroes.  And women join book groups and men don’t.  Yet those few co-ed book groups I’ve attended have been among the most interesting.  And if, as seems to be the case, book groups have led to an increase in reading in a culture that otherwise is reading less and less, it would be nice to see more men get in on the act.

Second, if I were allowed to redirect book group discussions, I would urge the following.   Less discussion about which characters are likable (think of all the great literature populated by unlikable characters.  Flannery O’Connor’s stories.  The novels of Martin Amis.  Lolita.), less of a wish for happy endings (Nothing is more depressing than a happy ending that feels tacked on, and there can be great comfort in literature that doesn’t admit to easy solutions, just as our lives don’t.), less of a wish that novels make arguments (Readers often ask me what conclusions MATRIMONY draws about marriage, when the business of novels isn’t to draw conclusions.  That’s the business of philosophy, sociology, economics, and political science.  The business of the novelist is to tell a story and to make characters come sufficiently to life that they feel as real to the reader as the actual people in their lives.)  But this is all part of a longer and more complicated discussion—perhaps one we can have in a book group!

Finally, if I were a benign despot I’d make a rule that no book can be chosen if over half the members of the group have already heard of it.  This would take care of the biggest problem I’ve seen among book groups, which is that everyone’s reading the same twelve books.  Eat, Pray, Love.  The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.  Water for Elephants.  Kite Runner.  I’m not criticizing these books, some of which I haven’t even read.  I’m simply saying that there are a lot of great books out there that people don’t know about.  There is a feast-or-famine culture in the world of books (just as in the world of non-books), such that fewer and fewer books have more and more readers.  This is not the fault of book groups but is a product of a broader and more worrisome problem, brought on by (among other things) the demise of the independent bookstore and the decrease in book review pages.  For that reason, it has become harder and harder for all but a handful of books to get the attention they deserve.

Joshua Henkin is the author, most recently, of the novel MATRIMONY, which was a 2007 New York Times Notable Book, a Book Sense Pick, and a Borders Original Voices Selection.  If you would like Josh to participate in your book group discussion, you can contact him through his website, http://www.joshuahenkin.com, or email him directly at Jhenkin at SLC dot edu.

Thanks, Josh, for a great post!  Hooray for book groups!

If you are interested in winning a copy of Joshua Henkin’s 2nd novel, Matrimony, please leave a comment here by May 15th.  Good luck!  Lisa, Books on the Brain

 

The Sunday Salon: The Weekend in Books

We’re having another scorching hot weekend here in Southern California, but the heat (hovering around 90) wasn’t enough to keep me away from the 13th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.  The festival is a huge special event that brings writers, publishers, book sellers and readers together.  We visited dozens of booths and it was all very exciting for me.  Authors are like Rock Stars in my world.  Not so much for my kids, though, who did a lot of complaining about the heat while spooning frozen lemonade into their mouths and soaking their feet in the big fountain on the quad.  I should have left the whiners at home!

We talked to Lori Nelson, author of a delightful book for girls called Hillary’s Big Business Adventure , about a 5th grader from Baltimore who has all kinds of entrepreneurial ideas.  This was right up my kids’ alley as they are Lemonade Stand Queens and are always dreaming up new ways to make cash.  My 5th grader actually has brochures and business cards made up for a business idea she has.  The book was written for kids a bit younger than mine, though, so I didn’t buy it, but 4-8 year olds would love it.  The illustrations are outstanding.

We also had a celebrity sighting.  Marilu Henner was at the Borders booth signing her new book Total Health Makeover.  She looked cute in a spring dress and sun hat and laughed when my husband called out, “We loved you on The Apprentice!”

Of the many panels and workshops at the festival there were three I’d hoped to attend, but we got there just in time for the first only to discover it was way on the other side of the sprawling campus.  The other 2 were happening at 2:30 and 4, but by 1pm we were melting in the heat and couldn’t take any more.  We all agreed it was time to leave.

I was excited to find a signed first edition of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin in my mailbox when I got home, sent to me by the author himself!  I look forward to starting it today.  Josh is going to do a guest post for me in the next few days about book clubs, and I’ll be giving away a copy of his book, so keep an eye out for that.  Matrimony is also the May selection for the online book club at Every Day I Write The Book Blog.  You might be able to score a copy of it over there if you hurry!  They are (were?) giving them away to those who want to participate in the discussion.

Last night we had a neighborhood BBQ to attend.  Our friends across the street recently hired an au pair from Brazil to care for their 3 year old twins for the next year. A new Brazilian au pair is a great excuse to party, I always say! 

By the time we came home at 8:30 I was so pooped from being out in the heat all day that I didn’t feel like reading (or maybe it was the massive amounts of bbq’d meat and the 3 beers I consumed that made me feel couch potato-ish).  Luckily Juno arrived in my mailbox from Netflix this weekend, so I popped it into the dvd player, not expecting too much, but I loved it! I laughed, I cried, I marveled at Ellen Page’s talent, her range of emotions, her character’s extensive and colorful vocabulary.  It is smart, funny, touching.  If you haven’t seen it, I insist you go check it out right now!  Or later.  Whatever works.  But do it!  You won’t regret it.

Ok, back to books.  I just gobbled up The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski for my book club.  It’s a breezy whirlwind of a book, quick and light and fun, but also thought provoking.  June Parker gives an acquaintance, Marissa, a ride home one night after a Weight Watchers meeting.  They get in a crash on the freeway and Marissa dies.  Later June comes across a list in Marissa’s purse of 20 things she wanted to do before she turned 25.  There are large and small items on the list, ranging from “kiss a stranger” to “change someone’s life”.  The book is about June’s mission to finish the list for Marissa.  My book club is meeting on May 4th to discuss TNTOML, and the author has graciously agreed to join us by speaker phone.  I’ve asked everyone to bring their own list of 5 things they’d like to do before their next big birthday, but now I’m having trouble coming up with 5 things for my own list!   I keep reminding myself that they don’t need to be profound, just something new, but it’s not easy.  What would be on your list?    

Have a beautiful Sunday!