17 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: The Church of Vinyl

Are you a member of good standing in the church of vinyl? Welcome to the pre-publication discussion of Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  Harper Collins is sponsoring this readalong and has provided all of the participants with either digital or physical ARCs.  But if our discussion of this book sounds more amazing that you'd ever dreamed of, you can pre-order a copy of the book here.

So, would now be a good time to confess that I read part two so many weeks ago that it's mostly a dim memory.  And because I'm not always as smart as I'd like to be, I didn't pre-write my review to post back then.  So I'm mostly going to take a backseat this week and let y'all take it away.

But before I say anything about the second section of this book that just keeps growing on me, I want to mention that the lovely & charming Melody from Fingers & Prose has written something for our readalong, despite the fact that she's not participating in it.  Actually, she has written two: one of which will appear this week, and one of which will appear next week. How groovy does that make her?  Her mini-essay is the new blogpost below/after this one (or just click here), so please check it out! 

Okay, discuss: Who was cheering during the Gwen-gives-the-apology scene? Best non-apology since Anne of Green Gables. 

Cameo appearance of Obama: cool or corny?

Why don't more people have dirigibles?  I mean, obviously, aside from the dangerous combustibility.  They don't seem outrageously more dangerous than hot air balloons or the various high-intensity sports that the kids these days seem into.  (Called a zeppelin in the book, Chabon's term for the Dogpile airship is apparently used erroneously--since Zeppelin is a brand name, a manufacturer, and I somehow don't think it's become common usage the way the way Kleenex has for facial tissue.)

In other news, the characters overall are really starting to mesh for me, not just Julie, the kid I want to perpetually hug.  I love the layers--maybe because I'm also reading a book on art right now, it's influencing the way I see things--but the story is like an old oil painting, with layer upon layer of lacquer, with the darks getting darker with each layer, and the lights getting brighter, more luminous, as the canvas reflects back through the lacquer.  To the point where the craftsmanship disappears and all you're left with is a gorgeous composition.

My goodness: the whole section describing Nat's adventures frying chicken in the kitchen, whilst reminiscing of his stepmama?  Priceless.  Truly priceless.

What else did I love? I wouldn't say that I'm prepared to like Gibson Goode, but I thought his holding forth on the world of black music was very interesting. But oh, Archy, please think long and hard before you take that job offer.

 Some favorite/interesting passages:

"An apology...it was a beautiful thing, no a miracle of language. Cost you nothing and returned so richly." (in a redux from the previous section) and then, on a related note, "Her apology was, as apologies so often are, fighting words. She was sorry only that she was not sorry at all." Both of these passages are so true.

"Archy already feeling crowded enough by the marital silence that at present filled the whole vehicle, knowing perfectly well, with all the almanack sagacity the word "husband" implied, that the present silence was more portent than aftermath. A formulating stillness. That pressure drop, brooding and birdless, right before the touchdown of a tornado."

"'You got a trio," she said to Leslie, "Plus one pregnant lady in a bowling shirt."

"This was in compliance with Aviva Roth-Jaffe's official policy on outrage, which was that, even when justified, it was an ineffective tool."

"She carried her pregnancy like a football tucked into the crook of a fullback's arm, invisibly, and with aplomb.  Whereas Gwen's body was more like an Einsteinian force, warping the fabric of space-time as she moved through it."

"It was not easy, dressed in skanky b-ball shorts and a Captain EO sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, but Archy dived down deep and hauled up all the dignity he could snap oloose from the sea bottom of his soul."


  1. Obama appearance = corny! Having said that, I liked part 2 better than part 1. I'm looking forward to the rest.

  2. What a great way to read a book! I'm really digging this discussion.

  3. I thought the Obama appearance was pretty corny. It's one of the things I mention in my post - it took me right out of the story. I don't know - I didn't think Part II held up as well as Part I. Perhaps because I had expectations as to the direction/depth, and didn't really feel like it went there.

    Gibson Goode is evil with a capitol Amazon.com. (I'm an affiliate, but oh well. Truth is truth.) He's not in it for the money and he KNOWS he's going to bring down a neighborhood staple - so he's essentially just doing it because he can. Essentially losing money just to kill something pure.

    1. Your comment makes me think about the slippery slope that is the argument for The Greater Good, Nicole.

  4. Ahahahaha Man, we had opposite views on things in this section. I found Gwen's non-apology incredibly frustrating, plus inconsiderate to Aviva. It just kind of pissed me off. And then the cooking chicken section, I was like "I feel like I could just skim this..." But I super-loved other parts, so...there's that.

    1. Ha! So we are no longer like Mr. & Mrs Collins, always of one mind?

      I agree that the non-apology was frustrating, and anybody who really grasped the gravity of the situation (no matter how unfair), would have to be crazy to let loose with that kind of apology. BUT as someone who has had to make countless, meaningless apologies in the name of good customer service, I can *totally* get how the temptation to do that would outweigh the situation.

  5. I'm right there with you - I loved the fried chicken bit. And I still love Gwen. She's stubborn, and a bit foolish... but I love her. I really enjoyed Part II more than Part I - but I also approached it very differently.

  6. I'm not as awed by Gwen as some seem to be; like Archy, Nat, Titus, Julie, Aviva, and pretty much every other character, she's realistically imperfect. Granted, Archy's conduct definitely makes the scales of sympathy(pity?) tip decidedly toward Gwen, but I wonder if Chabon will tweak our sympathies toward Archy as the novel continues.
    Obama cameo? Fail. I agree with Nicole. I kept trying to imagine Chabon's words coming from Obama's mouth with his distinctive delivery and simply could not do it.
    Random thought: I love the parody and satire elements developing. The fact that Gibson Goode's street name is G Bad continues to crack me up.
    On apologies: So, in this fictional world, are apologies simply cyphers? Tropes? Empty vessels that can contain any intention? Your twin quotes got me pondering...

  7. My affection for this book took a bit of a nosedive after part 2. Put me in the camp of not liking the Obama cameo. I frankly also find the women more interesting than the men, so spending a lot of time with Archy made me a bit restless. Still, onward.

  8. Gwen is definitely a character to be reckoned with. I'm curious to see how they resolve the "I'm having your baby, but you cheated on me with that other lady" issue. I can't imagine her taking it without consequences, but I think we saw her soften during the Obama benefit when she remembers what makes her love him.

  9. Okay, one million years after the fact, I finally did my update -- I'm having a far better experience this week although I'm still hatin' on Archy. I also hated the Obama cameo. Embarrassing!

    I'm really seeing an aspiration vs reality theme in this book, from the geographic -- Telegraph Avenue of yore vs the Telegraph Avenue Goode wants to ressurect -- to the personal -- pretty much every character in this book. That's been interesting for me.

    And like you, I'm so smitten by Julie.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)