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June 30, 2009

Joshua Henkin's Book Club Adventures: The Latest Chapter, May 2009

Posted by carol
Each month novelist and creative writing professor Joshua Henkin shares behind-the-scenes stories about his meetings with reading groups to discuss his novel Matrimony. Today he answers a question that he has been asked by book club members. Read on to find out whether he prefers e-readers or printed books.

May's Condensed Statistics

Number of Book Groups Visited: 17
Number in Person: 3
Number by Phone: 13
Number by Skype: 1
Number of States Represented: 8 (New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Iowa)
Total Number of Participants, not including author: 165
Total Number of Male Participants, not including author: 6

A Popular Book Group Question in May: How do you feel about Amazon Kindle?

This is a question that usually gets asked when I visit a book group in person, and at the end of the evening I sign readers' books. There are always a few people who read the book on Kindle, so I can't sign their books, and most of the book group members assume that I (and authors in general) hate Kindle. Not so. I'm certainly a print and paper guy myself. I like the feel of a real book, and I also know from when I'm writing that things look different on the screen than they do on the printed page (the screen is much more forgiving). I don't own a Kindle and would be surprised if I owned one anytime soon. That said, I can see the appeal of Kindle and other e-readers. When you're traveling, you can carry fifteen books with you in bag, which you can't do with an actual book. Beyond that, my feeling is that as long as people are reading (and buying!) my book, I don't care in what form that reading takes place. Although I would be disappointed if printed books became obsolete, if they do, I'll adjust.

To me, far more worrisome than e-readers are two phenomena that rarely get mentioned by book group members. The first is the decline of the newspaper and, along with it, the paring down (and at times elimination) of book review sections. Book reviews have long been the way that writers get discovered. I know that I owe a lot of Matrimony's success to the coverage the book received in the major book review outlets. With those outlets disappearing, it's getting harder and harder for writers to be discovered, and for readers (and book groups) to learn about new authors they might admire.

The second phenomenon is the decline of the independent bookstore. Independent bookstores are essential for the health and diversity of book culture. When you shop at an independent bookstore, the workers at the store can recommend a book to you that you haven't heard of and that you very well might love. This is especially true if you're a regular customer and the people at the bookstore know your taste. Just this month, Shaman Drum Bookshop, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a town in which I lived for eight years, announced that it was closing down after thirty years of business. To me, it was devastating. If a college town like Ann Arbor can't support a great bookstore like Shaman Drum, then the state of independent bookselling (and of book culture more broadly) is in serious trouble.

So go ahead, use your Kindle. But don't forget, also, to buy books from independent bookstores and to strongly support your newspaper book review sections. We'll all be much better off for that.

---Joshua Henkin

Previous Posts by Joshua Henkin:
Book Club Adventures, April 2009
Book Club Adventures, March 2009
Book Club Adventures, March 2009 Part II
Book Club Adventures, February 2009
Book Club Adventures, February 2009 Part II
Book Club Adventures, January 2009
Book Club Adventures, January 2009 Part II