Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Title: Telegraph Avenue
Author: Michael Chabon

Genre: Fiction (California / Berkeley / Record Store / 1970s / 2000s / Place as Character / Music / Racial Identity / Cultural Identity / Parenthood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (9/11/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Dislike / Unfinished
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: An indie record store in Berkeley, CA witnesses the trials, tribulations, battles, and victories of two families, one black and one white.

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it perfectly captures the vibe of the book.

I'm reminded of...: Quentin Tarantino, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett

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

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: If you love Chabon, or Berkeley, then you'll probably want to read this.

Why did I get this book?: I was lucky enough to score a spot on the Telegraph Avenue Readalong, sponsored by Emily at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads!).

Review: So, this was a DNF for me. It's been a few weeks since I gave up on this book, and sadly, my memory of it is already a bit fuzzy. I blogged my response to the first two parts for the readalong and my thoughts haven't shifted much from those initial musings.

In short: Chabon's a very lyrical writer. As the story focuses on the indie record store versus the big box entertainment retailer, a musicality to the narrative fits and in that regard, Chabon brought it. (To the point, I'll admit, that it got tiresome. But that's because I wasn't loving the book; perhaps if I had been digging it, I would have kept on loving the writing.)

I think my problem with this book is that it felt too aware, too smug, too hip... It was a cooler book than me. I was reminded of Tarantino film: there's passionate geekery here, and slavish devotion to a particular era, and while it's very evocative, since it's not a passion of mine, I grew bored when it started to feel like a schtick. The characters were hard to discern, at first -- who was who, who was white, who was black (rather significant since Chabon has said in interviews he wanted to take a look at race in this book), who was married/sleeping with/father to whom. Eventually, they started to separate, but by then I could tell this was just not my kind of novel. (I like music and all, but I don't love it, not like Chabon's heroes do.)

I'm sure I'm in the minority here and this probably wasn't a good first foray into Chabon's oeuvre. I suspect Chabon fans will be happy; Oakland-ers and other Bay Area aficionados will surely love this affectionate portrait of a city in transition.

15 comments:

  1. I agree--this book definitely isn't for everybody, and I'm sorry it ended up not being for you, but I'm so glad you joined in the readalong!

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    1. Oh, no need to apologize -- it was such fun getting an early read of this -- and I can finally say I've read him! I so appreciate being a part of the readalong!

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  2. Ahhh, Chabon. You hit it with smug. He is in love with his sentences, and that's great. I, on the other hand, am not.

    I've read his essay collection and Kavalier & Clay, and the smug drips from the pages. It irritates the fire out of me.

    [So is it terrible that I really got a kick out of your dislike/unfinished status? Because I did.]

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    1. Omg, thank you for saying so -- at times, I couldn't even take it. (Whenever he made his women -- mothers -- say something akin to 'bad mommy', I felt like he was literally showing off to his wife.)

      I'm glad I'm not the only person that isn't wild about him!

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  3. I did not like his other book so I've no interest in this one. Too bad it didn't work for you though. Too smug and hip. Ugh.

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    1. It's interesting because his characters aren't hipsters exactly but there's a hip-ness to him/his writing that puts me off. I can't articulate it but I can feel it!

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  4. My interest was peaked by the cover when I first saw it. Reading your review has shown me that it is not likely one that I will enjoy. Thanks for saving me!

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    1. I think if you like Chabon, you'll like this. Otherwise...I'm not sure.

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  5. I've never tried Chabon's work because I always sensed I wasn't smart enough for it. I probably won't try this one either.

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    1. It's not a super cerebral or high brow work, but there's a twee sort of cleverness that pervades his writing style -- it's just smarmy. I feel terrible for disliking him but there ya go!

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  6. I have had bad experiences with Chabon in the past. I read Kavelier and Clay, and I totally get what you mean about the highbrow smugness of his writing. I liken him to Dave Eggers, who I also don't really like. I get it that these books by Chabon are well written and hip, but it's just not my bag or brand of hip, and to me, it doesn't ring true. He is talking to a very specific audience, and that audience doesn't include me. Very intelligent and erudite review. I enjoyed reading why this one didn't work for you, and have a feeling that I would feel the same.

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    1. I suspect I wouldn't like Eggers -- as a rule, hipster white male authors rarely catch my fancy -- and there's too many books I want to read to kill myself on ones I can't stand. Thanks for the kind words!

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  7. Since I don't like Chabon, at all, (one of the few to loathe The Amazing Adentures of Kavalier and Clay) I doubt I'll be picking up this one. I still have the Summertime baseball one unread on my shelf...love your honest review.

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    1. I have to say, seeing I'm not the only person who isn't wild about Chabon makes me feel much better!!

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  8. I didn't get to this one on vacation, but the reasons you didn't like it still make me think I will. I'm a sucker for a lyrical race relations novel too. I'm sorry this one didn't work for you though!

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