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Reader’s Den

February Reader's Den: "Telegraph Avenue" Week 1

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Welcome back to the Reader's Den! Today we take a slight detour from our focus on New York City to the sunny climes of Northern California. Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue is a fictional place that the NYT book review calls, "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.' (page 287)" Unlike The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which takes place in a New York that is a Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster-inspired metropolis.

Kavalier and Clay happens to be a favorite book of a friend of mine, and I'm sure he's not alone. Chabon is able to elevate comic book references like Galactus or Star Trek imagery to the kind of literary references usually reserved for Greek mythology, such as on page 103, where Titus "scooped up a handful of planets, tumbled them between his fingers, let them splash chiming back into the dish." Both novels are similar in their slavering devotion to childhood pastimes (similar, here too, to his children's book, Summertime), although I've read some blog reviews of Telegraph Avenue that fault it for being too overwrought with verbiage. However, I feel like the elaborate descriptions help to set the scene for characters who know the condition and grade of every vinyl record that passes through their hands and every obscure fact about every artist.

The main characters of Telegraph Avenue, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are: "a league of solitary men united in their pursuit of the lost glories of a vanished world" much as comic book store or video store employees (or librarians!) are united in their preservation of artifacts from the past. They are a father-son duo, a family unit that Chabon has also visited in Wonder Boys, although they are not literally father and son. Archy's father, Luther Stallings, is a fallen blaxploitation star whose absenteeism rebounds in Archy's personal life when he finds out that his girlfriend, Gwen, is pregnant. The plot involves myriad other characters and twists and turns and I'm looking forward to seeing what the Reader's Den participants think about it in the comments below.

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