23 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: Readalong Parts III & IV

Welcome to the pre-publication Telegraph Avenue readalong! This week we'll be tackling sections III, A Bird of Wide Experience, and IV, Return to Forever.  If you're joining in for the first time today, you may want to consider checking out our discussions of sections I and II from previous weeks.

Okay, so I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: I was at least halfway through A Bird of Wide Experience before I realized that the entire section was only one sentence long.  Sure, there were a few semi-colons; but really, it was a section that would do an author like Jose Saramago, William Faulkner, or Cormac McCarthy proud.  I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to notice the sentence-long section if I hadn't been looking for a stopping place in my reading so I could leave for work!  The writing is beautiful ("If sorrow is the consequence of pattern spoiled, then the bird was grieving..."), and getting the literal bird's-eye view of all of the characters and their environs was a real treat.  I loved getting the sensory experiences of Fifty-Eight, the liberated African Grey parrot as it winged its way over Telegraph Avenue, connecting the myriad characters, locations, and storylines in one fell swoop.

Sidebar: African Greys are fascinating and devastatingly intelligent animals.  I lived with one for about year when my husband's daughter and her menagerie shared housespace with us.  I want to see more of this Fifty-Eight.

Moving on to part four, we see Archy at his best and worst. I completely cringed at his lashing out at Julie & Titus, and then my heart broke wide open for him with his execution of the funeral (not to mention the near-misses). Damnit, I don't want to feel sympathy for this guy, but Chabon somehow is capable of making me feel it nonetheless.  I may not love Archy, but I have a soft spot for imperfect characters whose endless foibles seem to result from one bad decision and then cascade from there.

Luther Stallings: Damn, but I thought he might be some kind of lynchpin around which much of this story would revolve, directly or indirectly. Now the plot thickens and I find myself bizarrely hoping that somehow he *will* find the money to produce his last film. Kickin' it old school, indeed.

Titus & Julie: Damn, boys. Fools, the both of you. Tailing cars, eavesdropping, misunderstanding, petty thefts, all of which, no doubt, will come back to bite them in the you-know-where.

Gwen: Getting her own back at the inquest. Life is full of reversals, but I'm perversely more interested in her personal life and how she is going to deal with the cheating man-child husband, all on the eve of giving birth.

Aviva: Trying to get through to Archy, trying to convince him that her devotion to midwifery is strong enough to risk imprisonment, should things come to that.  I like this woman and I wish we got to see a lot more of her. Her policy of "what do I know about being black?"  [or insert "other"ness of choice here] is not a bad repurposing of the worn out adage about walking a mile in someone's shoes.

Cochise Jones and the leisure suit of destiny.  Cracked me up. 

Finally, some choice passages:

"[The Mary Janes] had the charm of cement and the elegance of cinder blocks, but they held her feet without pain or structural failure, and it seemed to her that the librarian-nun vibe they exuded was also not incompatible with the kicking of ass."

"Titus was about to say 'It's your father' but, at the last instant, realized it might sound like he was saying Luther Stallings was shit. When, to the contrary, Luther Stallings at one time had stood in full possession of a definite article, not to mention two capital letters. Was most definitely The Shit."

"'But I will mention, when black folks and Jews feed a crowd, you know many chickens will die.'"

"'Seems like, I don't know. When people start looking at other people, people not like them, one thing they often end up liking about those people is their music.'"

"She had hoisted every sail to catch the rising wind of her panic; there was no telling what bleak tropic she might yet strike."

"Titus showed nothing but scorn for Archy and had never said anything remotely to the effect that he had a hole in his heart in the shape of his father, but like an astronomer with an exoplanet, Julie could infer that hole's presence from distortions in the field around Titus."

"'Black midwife standing up for herself to a bunch of white doctors, that makes it a mau-mau?'
'I don't have a problem with mau-mauing,' Nat said. 'It's a valid techinique.'
'I'm glad to hear that,' Archy said. 'Black folk been holding off on the mau-mauing lately, till we got a ruling from you.'"

Onward to part V, Brokeland, next week.  If you're enjoying our little readalong of Telegraph Avenue, please pre-order it here. It will be published in September by HarperCollins.


  1. I too was surprised at how much I enjoyed "A Bird of Wide Experience", both in its style and its content. And, please: Bring Fifty-Eight back!
    And I had no idea what "mau-mauing" was until I looked it up. And Archy's riposte cracked me up too.

  2. Reading through yours and everybody else's comments on this part is really interesting this week. I felt like the first week we were all basically saying the same thing about the book. Week two got a bit more diverse. But this week it's like everybody went off on their own thing and I love it!

    I'm glad I'm not the only one that didn't immediately notice that part 3 was one long sentence! And I think we disagree on Luther... he's a train that left the tracks and is trying to get back on the wrong tracks. He's gonna get run over by Gibson Goode, Chan Flowers and I'm worried that he's going to take Titus with him...

  3. Archy is a really interesting character. I don't like him particularly, but I do care about what happens to him. Perhaps because of his ties to Titus and Gwen?

  4. I loved part three too! I thought it was so well done and had such a great rhythm. I think it's funny that I seem to constantly be on the opposite side of things from everyone else. I think Luther is awful and does not deserve that movie in any way, and I'm completely caught up in Gwen's fight with the hospital. Sorry my post is a day late, but soon I'll be posting a gripping tale from that day that should make up for it! :]

  5. You're right about Archy - I can't like him, but I still find myself rooting for him nonetheless!

    PS - Sorry my post went up late this week, I was on vacation and having WiFi issues.

  6. My apologies for not having posted yet! I'm almost done with the section - I took vacation this week to hang with my sister and brother and thought I could balance it all. My goal is to finish tonight and get that up ASAP.

  7. No worries, y'all, about late postings--this is supposed to be fun, not work, so please post when you're able to and don't stress about it!

  8. I'm going to combine my posts this Tuesday - I JUST finished Part IV. All day every day should be dedicated to reading books!

    Anyway - I loved Part III - that it was a single sentence, so you could ride along the words like Fifty-Eight on a current of air.

    Gwen is now most definitely my favorite character. I just love her and all her strengths tied up in her many weaknesses. She's fantastic and so very real. Archy - I like how it was addressed by Gwen in this section (or maybe it was during Fifty-Eights) that she just couldn't, after all these years of not having illusions (but possibly delusions) over marrying Archy, how she just consistently let confronting him go.


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