Call him the anti-Salinger. Call him a shameless self-promoter. Hey, just call him — he’ll show up at your book club!
Two cross-country tours in the past year and a half weren’t enough for Park Slope writer Joshua Henkin — he’s also insinuated himself into more than 80 book groups to discuss his second novel, “Matrimony.”
And he’s not just looking to sell books or get a free meal (though, let’s face it, a meal would be nice) — Henkin will travel up to two hours to talk to a book group just because he thinks it’s what writers should do.
“Writers should want readers,” said Henkin, who also speaks to groups via Web cams (it’s like he’s really there — and you don’t have to feed him!).
In the not-so-distant past, a deal with a reputable publisher (Random House) and glowing reviews from the Times (“a likeable, lifelike book”) and The Brooklyn Paper (“Wow, really good!”) would have been enough to keep a novelist supplied with cigarettes and espresso.
But “the old models are changing,” explained Henkin. “Prestige doesn’t sell books anymore, and if you want to keep publishing these days, you need good sales.”
Fortunately, Henkin’s unaffected tale of a would-be writer’s winding path to domestic harmony has resonated with reading groups, which are overwhelmingly comprised of middle-aged females.
And it helps that, unlike some writers (and, yes, we’re talking about Slope neighbor Jonathan Safran Foer), Henkin isn’t afraid to demystify his work, even though he spent a decade laboring on “Matrimony.”
“Josh is a really easy talker, and he’s very open about the process of writing,” said Alice Sandgrun, a psychologist who hosted Henkin at her Park Slope home in November.
Sandgrun’s 20-person group — 19 women in their 50s and 60s, plus her husband — also discussed the autobiographical aspects of “Matrimony,” apparently without upsetting the author, who stayed for coffee and cake.
During his door-to-door publicity campaign, Henkin has amassed a 2,600-reader e-mail list. There are 50,000 copies of “Matrimony” in print (that’s a lot for a novel by a relatively unknown author), and it’s still selling well in paperback. But despite the success of the book group strategy, don’t expect a crowd-pleasing sequel.
“I’m writing something totally different,” Henkin said. “One nice thing about literary fiction is the aesthetic autonomy. I separate the work of art from the publicity.”
Dinner, of course, is another matter entirely.
To have Joshua Henkin come to your reading group to discuss “Matrimony,” visit www.joshuahenkin.com/readinggroups