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Telegraph Avenue: A Novel Hardcover – September 11, 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 432 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“An amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story….[Chabon’s] 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.” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times )

“Astounding....steamrolls the barrier that has kept the Great American Novel at odds with the country it’s supposed to reflect....[A] huge-hearted, funny, improbably hip book.” (Boston Globe )

“Chabon has made a career of routing big, ambitious projects through popular genres, with superlative results….The scale of Telegraph Avenue is no less ambitious….Much of the wit...inheres in Chabon’s astonishing prose. I don’t just mean the showy bits…I mean the offhand brilliance that happens everywhere.” (Jennifer Egan, New York Times Book Review (cover review) )

Telegraph Avenue is so exuberant, it’s as if Michael Chabon has pulled joy from the air and squeezed it into the shape of words....His sentences spring, bounce, set off sparklers, even when dwelling in mundane details….Fantastic.” (Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Fresh, unpretentious, delectably written….For all his explorations into the contentious dynamics of family, race and community, Mr. Chabon’s first desire is simply to enchant with words. Eight novels in, he still uses language like someone amazed by a newly discovered superpower.” (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal )

“Witty and compassionate and full of more linguistic derring-do than any other writer in American could carry off.” (Washington Post)

“A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women.” (Esquire)

“Chabon’s hugely likable characters all face crises of existential magnitude, rendered in an Electra Glide flow of Zen sentences and zinging metaphors that make us wish the needle would never arrive at the final groove.” (Elle)

“A beautiful, prismatic maximalism of description and tone, a sly meditation on appropriation as the real engine of integration, and an excellent rationale for twelve-page sentences.” (GQ)

“A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga....Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy…Chabon’s rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue….An embracing, radiant masterpiece.” (Booklist, starred review)

“’Virtuosity’ is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable.” (Publishers Weekly )

“Expect its publication to be one of the bigger literary events of the year, akin to the release of The Marriage Plot this year or Freedom in 2010.” (The Atlantic )

“An end-of-an era epic....A Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“An exhilarating, bighearted novel.” (O magazine )

“If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it’s Chabon....Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here’s a rare book that really could be the great American novel.” (Library Journal (starred review) )

From the Back Cover

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we've been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061493341
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061493348
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (432 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I thought I should start with my bias first, so you can understand where I am coming from.

A great novel should not be a chore to read.

The first 30% of this book crawled along introducing many characters with too little action. So I had the double problem of both trying to be engaged in the limited plot and trying to figure out who was who and why they were even present. The story did finally get moving as you got (way) into it, but it was work, not enjoyment. And then he hits you with part 3, an 11 page sentence. I have read elsewhere that this demonstrates a masterful command of the English language, but it struck me as tedious and extremely hard to follow.

Is there value to getting to the end of this book; most definitely, but you have to really want it. It reminds me of a gourmet food that initially tastes terrible, but the connoisseur will say it is an acquired taste. If you keep working through it you will end up loving it. I think Chabon is asking a little too much of his readers to work through it. It seemed he was trying too hard to write an ultrahip book, to show off his unique writing devices, and anything else he could think of rather than just write a straight forward tale. Of course it could just be that I wasn't quite smart enough to get it, and I will leave that to other readers to decide

In the end I was disappointed especially after loving his previous works so much. Specifically I can highly recommend Kavalier and Clay, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Summerland.
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Format: Hardcover
Depending on who you ask, Michael Chabon is either one of the finest writers of the English language working today or he is THE finest writer of the English language, full stop. My opinion vacillates between the two. A reputation like that comes with some pretty lofty expectations for each new book. I'm pleased to say that Chabon's latest, Telegraph Avenue, did not disappoint.

At the core of this novel is Brokeland Records, described at points as "the church of vinyl" and "an institution." You know the place, or someplace like it--a down on its heels shop that's a gathering spot for a passionate community of its own making. Brokeland is owned by Archy Stallings (black) and Nat Jaffe (white, Jewish) and these partners echo the diversity and cultures of the Berkeley/Oakland neighborhoods straddled by the eponymous avenue.

This is a long book. It's not epic. I'm not even sure that it's sprawling. But it is full. By the time you reach the end, you will be thoroughly familiar with the businesses, marriages, and families of both Archy and Nat. You'll have met and followed their lives, and the lives of their customers, their adversaries, and one well-educated parrot. You'll know the intimate details of their relationships and their personal histories. Chabon packs a whole heap of detail and digression into the course of his 480 pages, and that doesn't even include a boatload of pop culture references to 70's jazz, Blaxploitation films, and martial arts.

Chabon's affection for his characters is contagious and it's hard not to love them, despite some glaring flaws. However, the Brokeland community is facing any number of threats. Perhaps the most looming is a media megastore helmed by an NFL legend that's being planned for the neighborhood.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read every novel by Michael Chabon. I wait anxiously for a new one and get it the day of release and start reading. I live in Berkeley so am quite familiar with the turf and the "inside" references. You'd think that would make the book more accessible or fun to read and you would be mistaken. It seems like he is intent on proving on every page just how talented he is as a constructor of sentences and dialogue. And he is!! But you can look at a great painter's work, appreciate the quality of the strokework and still not like the painting. It just didn't speak to me. The characters are not as well developed emotionally and psychologically as his prior works. It is hard to find a character you can like or cheer for or even just empathize with. And the plot lines seem to be shallow. But his writing ability sure does shine....but it's like using a super power for evil rather than good. Perhaps he is chasing the ghosts of Kavalier and Clay as so many wunderkinds chase the ghosts of producing masterpieces early in their career.
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One expects a lot from a Michael Chabon novel; after all, he's won some flashy awards. Telegraph Avenue is indeed flashy. But it is also a rich tapestry that captures a specific moment in time (an up and coming senator from Illinois makes an important cameo) and like all great novels it gives you the feel and taste and the sounds of that moment and it shows how we, as we live our lives, shape our lives into history. Every moment is part of history. In Telegraph Avenue we see our past, our present, and our future as strokes from the same brush, all drying at the same time, and all there to see if only we had enough sense to step back and look at the canvas.

Chabon has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and high culture but it's never mere name dropping. Every reference, every track of music, every frame of film, every leisure suit selection illuminates the era and the characters struggling to embrace their youthful fixations even as they try to pretend to be adults. The most minor characters of this novel have rich inner lives.

Most of all it's an enthralling and fun read.
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