Joshua Henkin is the author of The World With­out You, Mat­ri­mo­ny, and Swim­ming Across the Hud­son. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

First of all, I want to open up my week of blog­ging by say­ing how hap­py I am to be here and have you all be the ones who are help­ing me shep­herd my new nov­el, The World With­out You, to pub­li­ca­tion tomor­row. And if any of you live in New York or are inclined to get your­self there, the launch par­ty for the book is tomor­row night, June 19th, at 7PM, at Book­court in Cob­ble Hill, Brook­lyn. Please join me for cheap wine and ched­dar cubes and lots of mer­ri­ment. And if you are one of the few peo­ple left on this earth who still believe that Man­hat­tan is the supe­ri­or bor­ough and you want to skip the wine and the ched­dar cubes and focus sole­ly on the mer­ri­ment, I’m also read­ing at Barnes and Noble on 82ndStreet and Broad­way on Thurs­day evening, June 21, at 7PM.

Are you a Jew­ish writer? This is a ques­tion that Moment Mag­a­zine asked a num­ber of writ­ers recent­ly, and it’s a ques­tion I often get asked, and by and large most writ­ers I know who get asked this ques­tion end up bridling or being flum­moxed or act­ing gen­er­al­ly tongue-tied. I know I do. That’s because I’m not sure what the ques­tion means. I’m a Jew, and I’m proud to be one, so on some lev­el by def­i­n­i­tion I’m a Jew­ish writer, just as I’m a Jew­ish father, a Jew­ish New York­er, a Jew­ish eldest child, a Jew­ish bas­ket­ball fan, and a Jew­ish watch­er of The Dai­ly Show.

But I’m not gen­er­al­ly asked whether I’m a Jew­ish eldest child or a Jew­ish watch­er of The Dai­ly Show, and I think there­in lies the rub. Because when a writer gets asked the Jew­ish writer ques­tion, some­thing more seems to be going on, some­thing hav­ing to do with the writer’s own rela­tion­ship to Judaism or whether the book he has writ­ten qual­i­fies as Jew­ish based on the num­ber of Yid­dish phras­es con­tained there­in or the amount of white­fish con­sumed by his char­ac­ters. And this is where things start to feel reductive.

To take my own work as a case in point, my first nov­el, Swim­ming Across the Hud­son, had lots of Jew­ish sub­ject mat­ter; my sec­ond nov­el, Mat­ri­mo­ny, had very lit­tle Jew­ish sub­ject mat­ter; and now The World With­out You has lots of Jew­ish sub­ject mat­ter again. Does that mean I was more of a Jew­ish writer for the first nov­el, less of a Jew­ish writer for the sec­ond nov­el, and more of a Jew­ish writer again for the third nov­el? That’s just sil­ly. I’d also add that these kinds of ques­tions serve to ghet­toize a writer when good fic­tion is good fic­tion and should reach as broad an audi­ence as pos­si­ble. No one asked Cheev­er whether he con­sid­ered him­self a male writer. No one asked Updike whether he con­sid­ered him­self a WASP writer.

And now, in good Jew­ish tra­di­tion, I’m going to con­tra­dict myself. I’m very inter­est­ed in time in fic­tion, and I think this inter­est comes in large part from my own rela­tion­ship to Judaism. My last nov­el, Mat­ri­mo­ny, took place over the course of twen­ty years, and when I start­ed to write The World With­out You I want­ed to write a book with a very dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship to time, so I set the book in com­pressed time, over the course of sev­en­ty-two hours.

Might I have been inter­est­ed in doing this if I weren’t Jew­ish? Of course. But I do know that my own inter­est in time is direct­ly con­nect­ed to what time was like for me as a child–Shab­bat starts at 6:32 this week, it ends at 7:35, there are two Adars this year so Passover is lat­er, that kind of thing. The sto­ry goes that when I was about five and we were mov­ing the clock for­ward for Day­light Sav­ings Time, I said to my par­ents, Do non-Jews switch their clocks for­ward, too?”

Joshua Henk­in’s new nov­el, The World With­out You, will be avail­able tomor­row. He is the author of the nov­els Mat­ri­mo­ny, a New York Times Notable Book, and Swim­ming Across the Hud­son, a Los Ange­les Times Notable Book. His short sto­ries have been pub­lished wide­ly, cit­ed for dis­tinc­tion in Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries, and broad­cast on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.” He lives in Brook­lyn, NY, and directs the MFA pro­gram in Fic­tion Writ­ing at Brook­lyn College. 

Joshua Henkin is the author of Swim­ming Across the Hud­son, Mat­ri­mo­ny, and The World With­out You, win­ner of the Edward Lewis Wal­lant Award for Jew­ish Amer­i­can Fic­tion and final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award. He was raised as an Ortho­dox Jew on Man­hat­tan’s Upper West Side and now lives in Brook­lyn with his wife, two daugh­ters, and their gigan­tic New­found­land puppy.