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by Michael Chabon
Books Read in 2016 (2,671)
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His writing skill and language are overwhelmingly impressive. This moved to the front of the Chabon line for me because it touched on so many signifiers that move me: blaxploitation, Oakland/Berkeley and especially the vinyl record thing. He got good guidance on the record front because I'd say that the record store atmosphere rings true and he picked some solidly obscure soul-jazz jams to include as references. ( )
A comic novel that leads into all kinds of unexpected corners, this novel takes us into revolutionary politics and black exploitation films of the 1970s, the practice of midwifery in contemporary California, the tribulations of small business operators in Oakland, the second-hand jazz recording market, inter-racial relationships in the USA, fatherhood and the relations between two loner 14-year-olds. And it’s fun to read, with 500 pages of creative, apt prose.
I was completely drawn into the story because of the characters: although most of them are ordinary folks getting through life, they are trying to work out complex issues. I would not expect to be very interested in the story of two businessmen trying to keep Brokeland, their record shop, going, even when the story includes the threat of a mega music retailer planning to move into their neighbourhood. But Chabon gives them a history and culture that are quirky, comic and touching. The characters have their own complex lives, some outrageous and some fairly banal, so that I felt curious about all of them, wanting to understand more about them and how their stories would develop. Even the minor characters, like Mrs Jew the martial arts teacher, or Cochise Jones the musician, have surprising depths to their personalities.
One of the central themes that Chabon explores is fatherhood and masculinity – themes that are also important in his other recent books. The men are all a bit silly in their relations to their parents and sons – they are not very good at it because they have other, more important and typically male, preoccupations. Archie avoids and evades responsibility, while Nat is more responsible but petulant. Their sons meanwhile are exploring masculinity as they see it in stylized movies. This contrasts with the seriousness with which their wives treat birthing and motherhood. The men are stuck in a muddle – to some extent, a fantasyland – until they start to get serious about their own sons.
And their sons need that connection to get their own lives in order. The novel opens with a scene of the two boys, Titus and Julius, almost flying on skateboard and bike, and closes with them grounded in a solid but positive pathway to their futures. Julius has a gay crush on Titus, and Titus deals with it in a modern matter-of-fact way that is nice to see. Together they try to figure out the bizarre background of the adults in their lives.
The theme of friendship between Black and white Americans is also central. The leading characters do have a long and close relationship in spite of the fact that one family is white and Jewish and the other is Black. They also have a complex class background – Gwen is striving for an affluent middle-class life while Nat seems to have abandoned his comfortable middle-class life for a comfortable lower-middle-class one. Chabon describes Nat’s belief “that the real and ordinary friendship between Black people and white people is possible, at least here, in the streets of the minor kingdom of Brokeland, California.” But this may be an illusory foundation, as even this minor kingdom is undermined by the men themselves. The final outcome is about as reliable as the blimp that might carry them away.
What seems more real is how Gwen, a Black midwife, uses the fact of her racialization to turn around her situation and get what she really wants. (But I wonder how Black Americans see this scene – I suspect that it’s not quite so easy to overcome racialized prejudice and use it to your advantage, a trope that exists more in the imagination of racists. Gwen’s white partner says her policy is, “What do I know about being Black?” I’m not sure of Chabon’s answer to this question.)
Still, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s a warm-hearted, entertaining look at parts of American culture that I’m not exposed to, with complex and empathetic characters. It’s a complex, lengthy story line, and I enjoyed every page.
Have read a few of Chabon's and enjoyed them. This one not as much. There might have been too many characters and disparate threads. Could be I was a little busy during this listen and got distracted. I enjoyed his earlier works more I think. Lots of nice music references in this though!
Prose is fantastic...characters are great...but I just didn't fall in love with this book. It too long to finish and at times felt like work.
Truly insightful, gorgeous writing line by line but too many characters racing around in too many different loops without enough of a compelling plot to keep me interested - maybe he was trying to be Dickensian, but I had a hard time staying with the tale(s)... I lost interest and didn't finish.
“Telegraph Avenue,” Michael Chabon’s rich, comic new novel, is a homage to an actual place: the boulevard in Northern California where Oakland — historically an African-American city — aligns with Berkeley, whose bourgeois white inhabitants are, as one character puts it, “liable to invest all their hope of heaven in the taste of an egg laid in the backyard by a heritage-breed chicken.” The novel is equally a tribute to the cinematic style of Quentin Tarantino, whose films its characters study and discuss, and whose preoccupations pepper its pages: kung fu, cinematic allusions and the blaxploitation films of the 1970s; and an interest in African-American characters and experience. Chabon and Tarantino make an unlikely duo; while the latter’s films tend toward gaudy eruptions of violence, Chabon bends Tarantino’s sensibility to a warmhearted novel about fatherhood in which the onstage violence consists of two graphic childbirth scenes and a 15-year-old boy whacking a chubby thug with a wooden sword. A self-help book in the style of Andrei Tarkovsky would be hardly more oxymoronic.
Mr. Chabon has constructed an amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story that addresses his perennial themes — about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the consolations of art — while reaching outward to explore the relationship between time past and time present, the weight (or lightness, as the case may be) of history, and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness.
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Wikipedia in English (1)
In this novel the author takes us to Telegraph Avenue. It is a story that explores the profoundly intertwined lives of two Oakland, California families, one black and one white. Here he creates a world grounded in pop culture: Kung Fu, 1970s Blaxploitation films, vinyl LPs, jazz and soul music, and an epic of friendship, race, and secret histories. Longtime band mates Archy and Nat preside over Brokeland Records, a used-record emporium. All is well until a former NFL quarterback, one of the country's richest African Americans, decides to build his latest Dogpile megastore on nearby Telegraph Avenue. Not only could this spell doom for the little shop and its cross-race, cross-class dream, but it opens up past history regarding Archy's untethered dad and a Black Panther-era crime.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.