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The Book We're Talking About: 'Telegraph Avenue' By Michael Chabon

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"Telegraph Avenue" by Michael Chabon
Harper, $27.99
September 11, 2012

What is it about?
Two friends, Archy and Nat, work at a struggling Oakland-based vinyl shop, Brokeland Records. Located on the avenue for which the book is named, the shop becomes at risk for bankruptcy as the opening of a nearby megastore approaches.

Why are we talking about it?
Anything by Chabon is worth a look, as his book "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

Who wrote it?
Chabon is the author of seven novels, including "Wonder Boys" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." He was born in Washington D.C. and attended Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh, as well as University of California, Irvine for his Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Who will read it?
Fans of Michael Chabon, San Francisco residents, fans of American history, fans of stylized writing.

What do the reviewers say?
New York Times: There are moments here and there in “Telegraph Avenue” where Mr. Chabon, himself sounds as if he’s trying very hard “to sound like he was from the ’hood,” but for the most part he does such a graceful job of ventriloquism with his characters that the reader forgets they are fictional creations. His people become so real to us, their problems so palpably netted in the author’s buoyant, expressionistic prose, that the novel gradually becomes a genuinely immersive experience — something increasingly rare in our ADD age.

Los Angeles Times: "...It's as if Michael Chabon has pulled joy from the air and squeezed it into the shape of words."

Entertainment Weekly: "...he writes with such warmth and humor and sheer enthusiasm — for his characters, for the rhythms and atmosphere of Oakland, for geek culture, for the mysterious power of music, which he captures with uncommon descriptive virtuosity — that by the end it's hard to resist this charmingly earnest book."

Esquire: "Chabon writes big. His hulking plots defy summary. When I read one of his novels, I feel a little like I do when I turn a corner in the Met and see the gorgeous sprawl and splatter of Pollock's Autumn Rhythm, when I crank up the volume on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band — awed, hypnotized, overwhelmed."

Impress your friends:
The etymology of the actual Telegraph Avenue in Oakland is a literal one: The area housed a telegraph line in 1859. 10 years later, the street was turned into a horsecar line.

Opening line:
"A white boy rode a flatfoot skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike."

Notable passage: "Gnat. In his ear, born with it. Hearing the current of his own blood, neural crackle, the omnipresent pulse of the worldwide electro-industrial power and information grid, the unheard music. His head a dish to pull down cosmic background radiation, sines and signals, diminished sevenths coming through the wires of time and space to vibrate secret membranes."

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