#readchabon, check-in the second: I Have Questions!

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–

April 15: Section I (through page 124)
April 22: Sections I and III (through page 250)
April 29: Section IV (through page 381)
May 7: Section V (through page 465)

and on Twitter at #readchabon.

In the comments on last week’s discussion, Kim asked:

“Which of the secondary characters are you most looking forward to (possibly) learning more about?”

At that time, I felt that we really hadn’t heard much from, or about, Nat’s wife Aviva (business partner of Gwen, wife of Nat’s business partner Archy), and I was wondering if she’d become a bigger part of the story as it progressed. That really hasn’t happened, and based on where the novel seems to be going, I’m beginning to think it might not.

TELEGRAPH AVENUE, by Michael ChabonIt intrigues me that Chabon is spending much more time with the black characters in Telegraph Avenue than the white ones–it also makes me a bit uncomfortable, given that Chabon is white, Jewish, and much more personally familiar with the Berkeley side of this story than the Oakland side. And when I think about that reaction, I get a little uncomfortable with my own discomfort. 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?

I’m only halfway through Telegraph Avenue right now, and I’m not prepared to answer those questions yet, but I do think they need to be asked. I am prepared to say that I am still loving the writing, and the wide range of pop-culture nerdery that Chabon brings to it.

This week’s reading schedule covered two sections of the novel. One is only eleven pages long…a single sentence, eleven pages long, mostly written from the viewpoint of a parrot. I was seven pages into it before I even realized that it was all one sentence, and to me, that means it worked. When I finished the section, I commented to my husband:

Me: “This guy just wrote a sentence that was eleven pages long.”
Tall Paul: “Is that even legal?”
Me: “It is if you do have a license to do literary tricks like that, and this guy most definitely does.”

If I forgot to mention it last week, we’d love to have you join our #readchabon conversation if you’ve read Telegraph Avenue–you don’t have to be reading it with us!

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