And The Winner of Matrimony Is…

… Yan!!

Using’s “List Randomize” feature Yan came up as the winner.  Yan, please e-mail me your mailing address ( so I can get it to Joshua and he can send you your signed copy of his book Matrimony, newly released in paperback. 

Thank you to all of you for being loyal readers of Planet Books and entering this contest.  Please remember that if you didn’t win here today, Lisa over at Books on the Brain will be running a giveaway contest for Matrimony starting September 15th. 




I do have another book giveaway going on this week for Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl.  You can check out Kerry’s guest post and enter for your chance to win HERE.


Giveaway ~ Joshua Henkin’s MATRIMONY (New in Paperback!)

Author Joshua Henkin has something to celebrate and would like to share it with you!  His novel (and previous book club selection here at Planet Books) Matrimony was just released in paperback on August 26, 2008.  Joshua would like to give away a signed paperback copy of Matrimony to a reader of Planet Books.  

To be eligible to win this signed copy of Matrimony please leave your name and e-mail address in the comment section of this post.  The deadline will be this coming Sunday, September 7th at Midnight EDT. 

To be eligible for another chances to win, post about this giveaway on your own blog and link back here and to be eligible for a third chance e-mail at least five friends about this giveaway with a link to this post and cc me on it.  My e-mail is  I will delete the e-mail after counting your entry so not to worry about those e-mail addresses being used for evil. 

To read a great essay written by Joshua Henkin that was featured on Lisa’s book blog Books On The Brain, click HERE

Also, be sure to check out Joshua Henkin himself, talking about his book Matrimony below.

Guest Post & Book Giveaway From MATRIMONY Author Joshua Henkin

                                    *This Contest Has Concluded


Planet Books’ MAY/JUNE book club selection was MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin.  I am delighted to say that Josh has taken time to write a very in depth and wonderful guest post here at Planet Books.  Without further adu, I would like to welcome author Joshua Henkin!


A Novel


Joshua Henkin

Guest post

Planet Books


I counted the other night, and I have now participated in 55 (!) book group discussions of MATRIMONY in person, on the phone, or online.  At each one, I confess that it took me ten years to write MATRIMONY and that I threw out more than three thousand pages.  Whenever I say this, I’m met with a collective gasp.  Why, people want to know, did it take me so many years, and how did I manage to stick with it?  The simple answer is that I’m a stick-with-it kind of guy and a novel takes as long as it needs to take.  But book groups have forced me think more deeply about this question.  What specifically about MATRIMONY made the process so drawn out?


The broadest answer is that I was learning how to write a novel.  You never learn exactly (or, better put, you’re always learning), in that every novel poses its own unique challenges.  But what I mean here is that I wrote short stories in graduate school (I still do.  I love short stories), and the form of the story is so different from that of the novel.  Then I wrote my first novel, SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON, which, though it didn’t literally grow out of a short story, nonetheless has the sensibility of a longer short story.  It’s told from a single point of view and takes place over the course of about a year.  MATRIMONY, by contrast, is told in more than one point of view and covers a period of twenty years.  So it was new territory for me.


More specifically, there were four big problems I was struggling with, and it took me a long time to figure them out.  First, how do you write about a twenty-year period without turning the novel into a boring chronology:  this happened, then that happened, then that happened.  I reread Richard Russo’s Empire Falls and found it very helpful.  Russo does a really good job of skipping time—of deciding what to fold in through back story and when to pause for scene.  In his book, you often find out very important information after the fact.  Rereading Russo’s novel reminded me that when and how things get told is often at least as important as what gets told.  And it was from rereading Empire Falls that I finally figured out the structure of MATRIMONY—the jumping in time and place from section to section of the book, such that you skip four or five years, like in presidential elections.  I was able within this structure to figure out what to include and what to exclude, what to skip over and what to reveal through back story.


Second, the role of Carter.  Sometimes in real life you have a friend you’re really close to in college whom you never see again.  That’s fine.  But what’s fine in life isn’t always fine in fiction.  In fiction, it’s hard to have a character be really important for 100 pages and then just drop him.  So I needed to figure out how to keep Carter important (he is important, after all), even as his role in the book becomes less central on a day-to-day level, thanks to the fact that he’s living elsewhere, has made different decisions, and so on.  Originally, I had Carter appear only in the college section at the beginning of the book and then not again until the end, at the college reunion.  But that struck me as a too easy (and therefore contrived) symmetry.  I needed to find a way for Carter to be present in the middle of the book so his reappearance at the end wouldn’t feel too narratively convenient.  I did this through brief references of him throughout the book, but most centrally through the long section when Julian goes to Berkeley for Carter’s law school graduation.  Once I figured out that section (and the middle of the book in general), everything else fell into place.


            Third, Mia’s sleeping with Carter.  The fact of this was true from the beginning, but what kept changing was when Julian found out, and from whom.  Everything is different if Julian were to find out at the time of the betrayal, or nine years later, if he were to find out from Mia, or from Carter, or if he were to discover on his own what happened.  This reminded me of the important lesson (in fiction and in life) that the how, when, and why of things is at least as important, usually more so, than the what, and that fiction (again like life) is about meaning and interpretation more than it is about pure event narrowly construed.


            Fourth (and in some ways this was the biggest struggle of all) was the question of writing about a writer.  Writers are told not to write about writers—that to do so is narrow and self-regarding.  Writers are supposed to get out of their own experience and live.  They’re supposed to run with the bulls in Pamplona and hike the Himalayas.  Never mind that this is bad advice (if a writing student of mine asked me whether it would be better for her as a writer to spend the year trekking through Nepal or to hole herself up in the library reading the classics, I would, without hesitation, say the latter).  The taboo of writing about writing runs deep.  I had this internal voice telling me I shouldn’t write about a writer, and so in early drafts of MATRIMONY I ended up doing it without owning up to doing it.  I was doing it with a wink and a nod, in other words, the effect of which was that the book (certainly in the writing sections, but in general, really) took on a more outlandish, farcical tone.  It was a much more deeply comedic book, and while I’d like to think that the published version has funny moments too, MATRIMONY is at core a domestic drama.  By writing it as farce, I was writing away from my strengths.  At some point in the writing process, I thought, This is ridiculous.  If I were writing about a chef, a lawyer, an engineer, a secretary, or a mobster, and he took his work seriously, then I would take his work seriously as well.  So why shouldn’t I do the same for a writer?  What happened, in the end, is that I gave myself permission to write about a writer straight-on, honestly, without apology, and when I did this, the whole tone of the book changed for the better—not just the writing sections, but all of it.


            So what’s next for me?  My publisher may be asking the same thing, since my new novel was due last month and, like a chastened college student, I had to ask for an extension.  But I’m starting to make some progress.  A lot could change, so everything I say about it is tentative, but for now, the novel, at this point titled THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, takes place over a single July 4th weekend.  Four adult sisters and their spouses/significant others return with their parents to the family’s country house in the Berkshires, the occasion for which is the fifth anniversary of the brother’s death; he was a journalist killed in Iraq.  When he died, he left a pregnant wife, who is now the mother of a four-year-old.  She, too, comes to the reunion, along with her son.  She’s an anthropology graduate student, living in Berkeley, and she’s seriously involved with another man.  She may marry him, and even if she doesn’t, she’ll likely marry someone else down the line, and that person could end up adopting the child.  So the book is about what happens over the course of this weekend, but more broadly, it’s about the struggle over this child.  To the grandparents and the aunts, he’s the embodiment of the dead brother, but to his mother, he’s just her child, and she’s moving on.  In this sense, the novel is about what, to one extent or another, most of my fiction is about:  the way the past pulls on/holds sway over the present.


            OK, that’s all, folks.  While I’m at it, I want to remind you that MATRIMONY will be out in paperback the last week of August and that I remain available to speak to book groups.  Paperback MATRIMONY will have a brand spanking new cover.  In fact, you can already get a sneak preview of that cover online.  Go to Amazon or Barnes




Joshua Henkin has offered to give one lucky Planet Books reader a signed hardback copy of MATRIMONY!  To be eligilbe for the random drawing please share with us your personal definition of the word MATRIMONY in the comments section of this post.  The contest will end on Monday, June 30th at Midnight EST.  Remember to check back here on Tuesday, July 1st to find out who is the winner.  


Sunday Salon ~ Matrimony aka Roller Coaster

Today was spent doing a mix of things.  I got some reading in right after sunrise, went to a birthday party at the beach, dropped off “The Wire” season 1 for friends, made myself dinner and watched Carrie Underwood’s induction into the Grand Ole Opry. 
The hubby is off to another part of Mainland Japan for a few days and had to leave at dawn to catch an early flight so when falling back to sleep didn’t work I picked up “Matrimony”and got some more read.  I’m almost done but I don’t want to discuss too much of the book right now because it’s Planet Books’ selection for May/June and I want to save my review for that.  I am pretty happy with the book though.  It’s extremely character driven, which I’m not entirely used to in the books I read, but I do like the twists that the lives of Henkin’s characters take.  I was surprised by most of the big twists and am curious to learn how Henkin’s wraps things up.  If you are reading this for Planet Books, let me know what you think so far. 
After I finish “Matrimony” I’ll have to figure out what will be next for my reading enjoyment.  I have a lot of books on my TBR shelves and though I picked up a couple of good looking titles at the PX this morning, I put them back on the bookshelf instead of adding to my stack at home.  I need to revisit my Wish List and get a few off of there before looking at new titles. 
What are you reading on this lovely Sunday?  A book (“Matrimony”), the paper, blogs, magazines, nothing?  Drop a line and let me know what you are up to today.  Have a great week and I’ll check ya later!
I finished Matrimony last night (Sunday) before bed.  Pretty good!  I was happy with how Henkin’s wrapped things up but not into a perfect little bow.  As some other bloggers have said in their reviews, was this autobiographical?  Was Julian Joshua Henkin?  If I ran into him and his family on the streets of NYC would there be him, his dark haired wife, their little boy and a dog?  It makes you wonder about some other books you may have read in the past and if the author took their life and just tweaked it a bit to make for good fiction.  All in all I think if you haven’t read “Matrimony” for Planet Books, I recommend it.  I would recommend it even if you weren’t reading it for PB! 

Many Quiet Moments

This week the hubby’s out of town so Rocky and I have had many quiet evenings of missing him.  To fill my time I started “Matrimony” and am about to hit page 100.  So far so good.  The story grabbed my attention from the beginning though it’s taken a turn towards something I’m concerned may not be good. 

This morning I met up with friends at a restaurant on the Sunabe Sea Wall here in Okinawa that overlooks the East China Sea.  It is a dreary day and though it started to mist a bit at the end of lunch, sitting out on the balcony seating was a nice way to spend the lunch hour and then some.  While waiting for my friends to arrive I had a good twenty minutes or so by myself to read.  Every few minutes I would look up to watch the tide slowly coming in and the heads of divers bobbing in the water. 

Now I am home with a full belly and an afternoon ahead of me to read and nap before American Idol at 7pm.  Below is a pic of the East China Sea further up the coast from where we had lunch but this was taken on a sunny day so you can get an idea of what most days here look like.


Sunday Salon ~ Books On The Way

The Sunday

Last week I joined a great little on-line group called The Sunday SalonThe Sunday Salon is a virtual reading room where book lovers pledge to set aside time on Sunday’s to read and then create a post on their blog and share about what they read.  It’s a great system and I can’t wait to get started.  Unfortunately this Sunday was not going to find me participating.  I have three books on their way to me in the mail and I haven’t wanted to delve into something else while waiting.  The three books are Barbara Walter’s “Audition”, Jodi Picoult’s “Nineteen Minutes”, and the Planet Books reading group selection “Matrimony” by Joshua Jenkins. 

If you are wondering what happened to the last book I was reading, “Boomsday”, well I lost interest.  I hate it when that happens but when it does there is no climbing out of that hole for me.  I think that the topic being so political and the real life Presidential election coverage just was too much for me.  I didn’t feel like I was reading for enjoyment as the story continued.  It was a good book and I am sure I will re-visit it again in the future, but I needed to put it back on the shelf for the time being. 

I hope my order arrives in the early part of this week so I can dig in (I’m especially excited about Barbara Walter’s memoir) and participate in The Sunday Salon next weekend.

And the May/June Book Is…

MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin

  A Novel

Thank you to the sixteen of you who voted in our May/June poll.  After the most exciting voting weekend in Planet Books history (a whopping seven months) 50% of the vote went to the winning book.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I left the house this morning and was surprised to find that Matrimony broke out of the tie against Love in the Time of Cholera with two new votes when I returned after a few hours. The discussion question period for Matrimony will have a new twist on it because Mr. Joshua Henkin graciously offered to visit with us here at Planet Books at the end of June to discuss his second book with us.  For those of you joining us for the first time or who would like to see what Matrimony is about please check out this link to The New York Times Book Section.