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December 11, 2008

Joshua Henkin's Book Club Adventures, Part II

Posted by carol
Yesterday we announced a new contributor, novelist and creative writing professor Joshua Henkin. Each month he'll be sharing stories about his visits with book clubs to discuss his novel Matrimony. A chronicle of his adventures in November continues here...

November's 2nd Most Commonly Asked Book Group Question: Whom do you envision playing your characters in a movie version of your novel?

The short answer is: No one. To a novelist, one's characters look and talk and gesture so deeply like themselves that any actor is going to seem wrong. Not infrequently, one of my undergraduate writing students will write a sentence such as, "She looked like Julia Roberts," to which I respond, "No, no, no. Only one person looks like Julia Roberts, and that's Julia Roberts." Which is why I urge my students to eschew all movie star analogies in their stories unless an actual movie star makes an appearance on the page. (Several years ago, one of my graduate students wrote a terrific story about a young woman who brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving. In that case, it's fine for him to look like Bob Dylan; he is Bob Dylan, after all.) Not that some actors wouldn't make better choices than others. It's interested me that when I turn the question back to the book group, certain actors' names keep coming up. In any case, it's a sign of the power of film over our collective imagination that this question gets asked so often. My own fantasy is to see an interview with Martin Scorsese during which he's asked, "And what writer do you envision writing the novel of your movie?"

November's Most Unusual Book Group Questions:
1) What did you get on your Myers-Briggs Test? (One of the characters in Matrimony took the test. I, on the other hand --- in another example of non-autobiographical writing --- never did.)
2) Why does it say at the back of novels what font the book was printed in? (I don't know. Copyright issues? Can anyone enlighten me?)

Odd Thing I've Noticed:
I've now participated in more than 75 book group discussions of Matrimony, and I've noticed that members of library book groups are on average older than members of non-library book groups (library book groups are also among the few book groups where one finds men in attendance). Is this reflective of the age of library patrons in general? Does this bode poorly for the future of libraries? Do younger readers not patronize them?

Mistake Found in Book:
The Atlanta book group let me know about a little blooper I committed. I promised I'd give them credit, so here goes. On page 127 of Matrimony, the reader learns about Mia's refusal to have a traditional wedding:

"She didn't see why the bride was supposed to wear white, when no one was a virgin any longer. When someone said to her, 'Don't you want people to know who the bride is?' she said, 'I'll be the one up front next to the groom'.... She wrote the wedding invitations by hand because it was more personal that way. Besides, the printed invitations always came from the parents of the bride, the wedding itself thrown by them as if they were paying off the groom's family. And the announcement in The New York Times: she disapproved of that as well, your resume paraded for the world to see, as if in a breeder's catalogue, and she made her parents promise not to send an announcement to the Times. The garter belt --- there would be none of that...."

Well, as the six fine young ladies from Atlanta pointed out to me, garter belts don't get tossed at weddings; garters do. What can I say? I'm a guy and I'm Jewish and I live in the northeast, all of which adds up to my never having been to a wedding where a garter (or a garter belt) got tossed. In any case, if Matrimony goes back to reprint, the Atlanta book group will make it into the acknowledgments.

Till next month, happy book-grouping.

---Joshua Henkin