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on 6 December 2013
Where did Amazon get this book, considering it was in the region of 800 pages, the type face was reduced, as was the size of the book. Which begged an impossibility to read. Well you may ask why didn't you send it back, answer - because I didn't look at it until I came to need to read it. On close investigation this copy was entitled for international use - so my question is why did i get this
horrible copy, which I couldn't possibly read. ??? As far as I could tell there was no mention of the type face or that it would be an
international version. I am now loath to order any other books in case I get the same thing again.
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on 20 April 2017
Like others, I previously read The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Kavalier & Clay, both of which I really enjoyed. Based on the reviews here, I was therefore expecting to struggle with Telegraph Avenue, but I actually found it really entertaining and I was eager to pick it up at every opportunity.
No, there’s no real action-packed or cliff-hanging plot line, but it’s not particularly that kind of book. However, all the threads of the story kept me absorbed with great characters and their various predicaments.
Some of the other reviewers complain about being confused by the many characters in the book but I didn’t find this to be the case at all. They each appeared to be relevant to their stage of the story, albeit some were only minor players.
Not the pinnacle of his writing, but nevertheless an excellent book which I’d recommend for all Michael Chabon fans
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on 19 November 2012
I like Michael Chabon. I think he has a wonderful turn of phrase, and his writing as a rule is very evocative.

Unfortunately, I found it very hard to engage with this book. It's difficult to put my finger on any one thing, and I think it was a combination of factors.

* Too many characters that played too small a part - The book is a confusion of characters, many of which are introduced simply to give colour to a single scene. Of course when that happens it's not clear at first and you have to wait a while to realise they're not making a reappearance. The CHOCHISE meeting about 3/4 of the way through the book is a prime example of this.

* Unclear characterisation forced me to re-evaluate the characters too often - As a reader I draw certain conclusions from the actions of characters. When these conclusions are contradicted later on it becomes confusing. Why did they act the way they did if that's the sort of person they are?

* Unclear character descriptions - This was a minor one, but it happened a couple of times, and it pulled me right out of the story. I'd built a picture of a character in my head, then some new piece of information (eg. hair colour, in the case of Cochise) is introduced relatively late in the book, forcing me to revise my mental image, and throwing the whole plot into confusion as I now have 2 character images for the same character - one of which has performed the actions in the first half of the book, and one which will hold from now on.

* Not enough story - At some point beautiful prose just isn't enough, and at the end of the day I didn't feel there was enough actual story to warrant a book of this length.

* Too many references - To everything! From Star Trek to Jazz. I doubt anybody got all the references in the book. It's OK that a book assumes specific knowledge on the part of the reader (eg. Hornby's High Fidelity), but when you spread the subjects about which specialist knowledge is required this thin, you're left with a very small percentage of the population that will "get" everything. It just left me feeling like an outsider, rather than feeling involved in the story and the characters (and I got a reasonably high proportion of the references, I think. I wonder how folks that understood fewer felt?)

To sum up: not a bad book, just not his best work, and - for me - too much like hard work to read. I will put the time and effort in to read difficult books (eg. Eco's Foucault's Pendulum is well worth the effort - one of my favourite books!) but for this one it was too much work for too little reward. Sorry Mr. Chabon. I hope to see a return to form next time!
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on 14 October 2013
Brokeland Records is one of those mythical, eccentric second-hand record stores where Nick Hornby and other devoted music aficionados shop. Located on a rundown section of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, Brokeland is owned by Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, long-time friends and band mates, and has a handful of loyal customers who visit regularly to hangout and occasionally to buy records. Business has been bad at Brokeland for a while but things are about to get a lot worse since planning permission has been granted for ex-NFL player and fifth richest black man in the USA Gibson Goode to open a Dogpile Thang (that being a music and entertainment megastore) just down the road.

It's not just business that's causing trouble for Archy and Nat either. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, run a midwifery business together and inadvertently become embroiled in a racially charged professional dispute when a home birth goes dangerously wrong. The chances of domestic peace are further shattered by the arrival of Archy's estranged father Luther Stallings, a former Blaxploitation star and martial arts champion, the revelation that Archy has a previously unacknowledged teenage son named Titus Joyner, and the relationship between Titus and Nat's son Julius. The impending arrival of Gibson Goode's Thang quickly becomes the least of Archy and Nat's worries.

Telegraph Avenue is an excellent, epic novel of real life and relationships. Michael Chabon often explores interpersonal relationships (particularly notions of fatherhood) and how they affect individuals as well as the wider world and he does so again in a variety of ways with Telegraph Avenue. There's a massive cast of characters and so a whole host of different relationships - spouses, parents and children, neighbours, business partners etc - are explored and evaluated. In addition of all of these interpersonal relationships, Chabon also considers intercommunity relationships, most obviously in relation to racial divides but also class and socioeconomic differences. As such, Telegraph Avenue is a thought provoking novel that casts light on the many tensions that are simmering under the surface of modern American life.

With Telegraph Avenue Chabon investigates the kind of forgotten crimes, both real and imagined, that exist in all communities. There are secrets about secrets about secrets in Archy and Nat's lives and the past is never far away for any of the characters. There are lots of plot strands running concurrent to the central fate of Brokeland Records with Chabon capturing a host of different cultures, styles and attitudes expertly. Even the arthritic parrot's ten page monologue seems convincing. Saying that, it's probably unsurprising that there's plenty of humour mixed in with the domestic drama. There's also a plethora of pop culture references that seem to extend from the 70s to the present day.

Like the music that Archy and Nat love to sell at Brokeland Records, Telegraph Avenue is full of soul. It's a powerful story of love, injustice and the dangers of consumerism but Chabon still manages to work in plenty of laughs along the way. Telegraph Avenue is a fascinating character study peopled by delightful eccentrics. Here's to hoping that Mr. Nostalgia gets a spin-off novel.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 September 2012
Anybody who has read The Yiddish Policemen's Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay will know that Michael Chabon is one of, if not the most, dazzling of writers. With a dense writing style all his own, you will need to concentrate, but you will be rewarded.

Archy (black) and Nat (Jewish) run a vintage vinyl shop in Oakland. The name of the shop is Brokeland , a name that sums up Chabon's lexical humour as well as the financial state of Archy and Nat's business. The shop is more than just a retail outlet; it's a hub where the local characters hang out, talk jazz and try to work out a plan to save the shop from imminent ruin. Gibson Goode is the fifth-richest black man in the US and he is planning to extend his empire by building his latest Dogpile megastore on nearby Telegraph Avenue. Archy and Nat's little enterprise, wobbly at best, is heading the way of so many individual, quirky, one-off shops - closure.

Meanwhile, Archy's wife Gwen and Nat's wife Aviva are highly experienced midwives who run their own birthing business. (Only in America!) When one of the births that they are attending gets complicated, Gwen runs foul of the hospital authorities and one doctor in particular. These two main plot-lines give Chabon the opportunity to explore the beleaguered battle-lines between big business and the establishment versus enterprise and individuality. Add into the mix two teenage boys. One is Nat's son Julie (Julius) and the other is Titus, the son that Archy has never acknowledged. The boys become best friends - and more. Add further to the mayhem with Archy's alienated father, Luther Stallings, the faded Blaxploitation movie star who has fallen on hard times, Chan Flowers, a manipulative funeral parlour magnate who is being blackmailed by him and the death of Cochise Jones, Archy's father-figure and a legendary jazz musician, and you have a combustible tangle of plot and a cast of fully three-dimensional, memorable characters who speak in a way that only Chabon could make them. Oh, and did I forget to say that Archy's wife Gwen is pregnant. Very pregnant. There are plenty more characters along the way - even Barack Obama has a walk-on part!

Without giving any more of the plot away, suffice to say that there are any number of tremendous scenes and two set-pieces which are particularly outstanding: one where Gwen and Aviva attend a complicated birth with its ensuing consequences and the other, the funeral service of Cochise Jones, poignantly held in Brokeland Records. The book has no chapters but is divided into five parts, one of which is just one sentence - but it's eleven pages long! This is virtuoso writing. A joyous, dazzling, touching, memorable, laugh-out-loud tour de force. 5*
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on 23 February 2013
Michael Chabon writes like an angel – one of Kerouac’s stoned desolation angels maybe, or better still, like Nicola Barker – writers with the same unerring ear for the vernacular, the same sheer obsession with language which leads to mad riffs, exhilarating, exuberant verbal flights, Flaubertian-triple-adjectives. And Telegraph Avenue reads like music, with which it is obsessed – Chabon can describe a record and make you swear you hear every sound - oh and it’s pretty focused on race relations too. Telegraph Avenue, never much of a contender, is going down – or possibly up, if the black and Jewish owners of Brokeland secondhand vinyl store can be persuaded to abandon the fight and accept the imminent arrival of a Dogpile store, owned by an All-pro quarterback made very good (Gibson Goode, in fact - lot of Dickensian apt names here!). So battle commences, with subplots deeply concerned with fatherhood – a favourite Chabon subject – midwifery (and a pregnancy approaching the shelling-out point so vividly and accurately described I think Chabon has had female help here!), the San Francisco wild parrot colony, blaxploitation, the meaning and possibilities of friendship. And the prose flies. It soars like Cochise Jones’s parrot, like the zeppelin that menaces the Californian skies. Section 3 is a bravura one sentence eleven page resume of where everyone’s at courtesy of the trajectory of a bird’s flight. Chabon deploys similes and metaphors better than any poet – ‘Along the food table ran a sawtooth of fried-chicken mountains. Wreathed in clouds. Air tanks and Sherpas were required to reach its peaks’ – ‘the elusive Titus, a cat burglar rappelling down the sheer wall of Julie’s life’ – I could go on and on with phrases and sentences that made me stop and reread with sheer pleasure. But the key to the whole book, I think, lies in Archy’s funeral oration for his lost father-figure, a wonderful speech which could be summed up, I think, by the song ‘the world is just a great big melting pot’ – but Chabon/Archy puts it so much more lyrically. On the way Bruce Lee, Tarentino, Terry Pratchett, Charlie Brown, some unexpected minor cultural figures and an enormous number of musical giants all get referenced. A great book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 7 August 2013
There are so many reasons for me to dislike this book. It's relentlessly stuffed with references to American pop culture of the seventies - jazz, soul, funk - kung fu movies - blaxploitation - most of which were lost on me. (Though I got the Star Trek references!) It's full of tricksy writing techniques and stunts, such as the cameo appearance of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. And it's jam-packed with language that would make a docker blush.

But...but...it's brilliantly written. Set in Oakland, California, I couldn't decide whether Chabon is describing this piece of America as it really is or creating it anew, but either way he does it with such vividness and exuberance that it becomes a completely realised world with a past, present and uncertain future. There are issues of race, sexuality and gender here, all handled with a deft touch and a pleasing sense of optimism. One of Chabon's most effective tricks is not to tell the reader straight out in the early part of the book which characters are black or white, but to leave us to gradually work it out from indirect references: a device that allows him to show the sameness of people rather than the differences and forces the reader to get to know them without letting preconceptions creep in.

There is a huge cast of characters but we are mainly concerned with Archy and Nat, co-owners of Brokeland, a shop specialising in vinyl records, its existence threatened by the proposed building of a new megastore; their partners, Gwen and Aviva, who work together as midwives carrying out home-births - Gwen herself being massively pregnant too; and their teenage sons, Julie and Titus, on the cusp of childhood and adulthood and enthusiastically exploring their new-found sexuality. And then there's Luther, Archy's father, ex-star of '70s kung fu movies, ex-drug addict, down and almost out, but still dreaming of the comeback.

The plot is slight, based around Luther's past, the survival of the shop and the problems of the midwifery practice. Instead, the book is strongly character-driven. There are no heroes and very few total villains here - mainly just flawed people trying on the whole to do their best, if only they could work out what that was. The relationships are the important thing: fathers and sons, marriages and lovers, friendships and shared histories that bind the community into one diverse, often divided, but ultimately cohesive whole. And Chabon's characterisation is warm and affectionate, sometimes moving, often funny.

But above all it's the language and the writing that create the magic here - Chabon gives a virtuoso performance and the tricks are performed brilliantly, (including the unbelievably soaring sentence that lasts for 11 pages, with every word precisely placed, flying over the whole community and dropping in and out of every character's life). There is an incredible wordiness about the book, one word never used when fifty could do, but the words take on a rhythm and life of their own and become almost mesmeric after a while. I found I was often pausing to appreciate and applaud the sheer skill of the performance. And, for most of the time, I could silence the small voice inside my head that was telling me that, underneath the dazzle and razzmatazz, nothing much was happening and nothing profound was being said...

Wonderfully written and flamboyantly entertaining, the sheer joy of watching a master wordsmith ply his trade almost outweighs the underlying lack of substance, but ultimately this novel just misses being truly great - though it's so impressively done it takes a while to notice that. And although the destination may be a bit disappointing, the journey is breathtaking. 4½ stars for me, so rounding up to 5.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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on 31 December 2013
Perhaps not as much a must if you aren't that keen on music (only in that there are many references to classic rare groove and jazz recordings) but still a wonderful read with the most poetic and evocative language I have read in many a year, along with a great story that results in a well crafted climax.

Michael Chabon describes simple things like a facial expression in a way that all the undecided emotion behind it rises to the top like bubbles on the floor of a full bath - rising up slowly until it breaks on the surface of your mind and you say, 'yeh, I get that'.

Top book - highly recommended.
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on 9 August 2013
I have read all of Michael Chabon's books and have recommended several to friends safe in the knowledge that they would enjoy them.

I am such a fan that I eagerly awaited his first release in years.

I have literally battled through Telegraph Avenue which seems to be a well written love letter to music of a bygone era, and specifically targeting music lovers or readers wanting to reminisce. As a European I seriously believe anyone outside the US or Canada has not been seen as a potential reader.

This is not what I have come to love from Chabon's books. His imagination, characterisations, and storytelling are second to none. Pure escapism and addictive. Until now, my favourite author.

This is a completely different route. Slow, flitting between boring story lines which take so long to meld that I considered giving up on the book.

I do not write this happily, and have never reviewed before but if this is your introduction to Michael Chabon, PLEASE don't read Telegraph Avenue. Read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Yiddish Policemen's Union or Wonder Boys.
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on 17 August 2014
Brilliant. Prior knowledge of classic Jazz music, Tarantino movies and Kung-fu movies a definite advantage. For me, with the first two of those three, this was a brilliant read. Easily up there with Kavalier and Klay. Parallels to High Fidelity are fair but this is a very different beast. Wonderful characters, delightfully drawn. I could imagine the ensemble cast for the movie as I read. Highly recommended for those who want something above the ordinary.
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