#readchabon, check-in the third

Kim and I are reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue together this month, along with anyone else who wants to read it with us. Discussions are here at The 3 R’s Blog as noted–

and on Twitter at #readchabon.

Last week, I mentioned a few of the questions that this novel was making me ask myself, and before we move on, I wanted to get back to them and share a few of the responses.

“Do I really think that writers should only write from their own personal experiences? No, I don’t, unless they’re writing memoirs.
So maybe this is the better question: Do I think it’s presumptuous for a novelist to write and voice characters informed by a background that he couldn’t really know from personal experience? And when I don’t have that background or experience either myself, how can I assess its authenticity? Or should that even be one of the things I assess?”

The comments suggested that perhaps it’s not really a general matter of a

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

novelist writing from outside personal experience–as Jeanne noted, this applies to pretty much anything written in genres such as science fiction and fantasy–as it is a more specific response to writing about race, which continues to be a complex and fraught subject for Americans. As Harri3etspy reflected:

“I think the unease is not about the author writing outside his personal experience but about race specifically. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the considerable wake of reading Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing, wrestling with my own expectations. Mostly, I think, it comes down to the thing you mentioned in your last comment above, Florinda — that I can’t imagine asking some of those questions or addressing some of those issues without that experience. And yet as Jeanne points out, why should race necessarily be different than any other type of experience? Maybe because it’s so hard to put on? It’s not just about who you are and what you do but what people hand back to you about yourself.”

I’m not completely done reading Section IV as I prepare this post for Monday morning, but it hasn’t raised as many philosophical questions for me. This part’s been much more about the story, and as promised, it’s also been about spending more time with the women. I still have the sense that Chabon’s more interested in Gwen than in Aviva, but we’ve seen more development of both. I’m less interested in the boys at this point than the writer is.

I’m still loving the writing, and when that’s the case, I’m not really a reader who needs a lot of plot. That said, I have a sense that the story is building toward something–but I’m still not sure what, and I have an uncomfortable feeling it may turn out not to be much of anything. I’m thoroughly along for the ride, but at this point, there’s not that much of it left, and I’m less certain of where we’ll end up than I was last week.

If you’re reading–or have already read–Telegraph Avenue, we’d love to have you join our #readchabon conversation. We’ll be wrapping things up next Tuesday, May 7.

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