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Telegraph Avenue [Hardcover]

Michael Chabon
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 11 2012

Amazon.ca Editors' Pick: Best Books of 2012

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there, long-time friends, bandmates and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the sketchy yet freewheeling borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Archy and his wife, Gwen, are expecting their first baby; Nat and Aviva have a teenaged son, Julius. Cranky, flawed and loving each other with all the fierceness we've come to expect of Chabon characters, Archy and Nat have worked to construct lives and livelihoods that have a groove, looking to connect across barriers of race and class, and clinging to a sense of order and security through their stubbornly old-school ways. When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fourthrichest black man in America, announces plans to construct his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby neglected stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. What they don't know is that Goode's announcement marks the climax of a decades-old secret history, encompassing a forgotten crime of the Black Panther era, the tragedy of Archy's own deadbeat father-a long-faded Blaxploitation star-and the perpetual shining failure of American optimism about race.

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Review

“An amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story….[Chabon’s] people become so real to us, their problems so palpably netted in the author’s buoyant, expressionistic prose, that the novel gradually becomes a genuinely immersive experience - something increasingly rare in our ADD age.” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times )

“Astounding....steamrolls the barrier that has kept the Great American Novel at odds with the country it’s supposed to reflect....[A] huge-hearted, funny, improbably hip book.” (Boston Globe )

“Chabon has made a career of routing big, ambitious projects through popular genres, with superlative results….The scale of Telegraph Avenue is no less ambitious….Much of the wit...inheres in Chabon’s astonishing prose. I don’t just mean the showy bits…I mean the offhand brilliance that happens everywhere.” (Jennifer Egan, New York Times Book Review (cover review) )

Telegraph Avenue is so exuberant, it’s as if Michael Chabon has pulled joy from the air and squeezed it into the shape of words....His sentences spring, bounce, set off sparklers, even when dwelling in mundane details….Fantastic.” (Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Fresh, unpretentious, delectably written….For all his explorations into the contentious dynamics of family, race and community, Mr. Chabon’s first desire is simply to enchant with words. Eight novels in, he still uses language like someone amazed by a newly discovered superpower.” (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal )

“Witty and compassionate and full of more linguistic derring-do than any other writer in American could carry off.” (Washington Post)

“A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women.” (Esquire)

“Chabon’s hugely likable characters all face crises of existential magnitude, rendered in an Electra Glide flow of Zen sentences and zinging metaphors that make us wish the needle would never arrive at the final groove.” (Elle)

“A beautiful, prismatic maximalism of description and tone, a sly meditation on appropriation as the real engine of integration, and an excellent rationale for twelve-page sentences.” (GQ)

“A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga....Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy…Chabon’s rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue….An embracing, radiant masterpiece.” (Booklist, starred review)

“’Virtuosity’ is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable.” (Publishers Weekly )

“Expect its publication to be one of the bigger literary events of the year, akin to the release of The Marriage Plot this year or Freedom in 2010.” (The Atlantic )

“An end-of-an era epic....A Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“An exhilarating, bighearted novel.” (O magazine )

“If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it’s Chabon....Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here’s a rare book that really could be the great American novel.” (Library Journal (starred review) )

From the Back Cover

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we've been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens," -- Acts 27:8 (NKJV)

Before commenting on my reactions to the book, let me note that Telegraph Avenue is a challenging novel to read. Unless you know classic jazz recordings and film references extremely well, you will find the beginning and other parts of this book difficult to appreciate. Mr. Chabon has also put together some of the most complex descriptions of circumstances and the characters' reactions to them since James Joyce wrote Ulysses.

It took me about 200 pages to decide that reading the book was worth the effort. After I decided that it was, I was rewarded for that decision by discovering a story that breaks many genre and cultural molds about how the story of contemporary life is captured to achieve that rarity, a quite original and worthy story.

Ultimately, the book's theme is about the importance taking stock of your life and dealing with what needs attention, rather than just going with the flow. It's an important message, and I found myself re-examining major parts of what I hadn't looked at in some time. Rarely do novels have that effect on me.

I came to deeply appreciate the long descriptions of circumstances and reactions to them for the complex images they built in my mind, taking me more precisely where Mr. Chabon wanted me to go than most novelists attempt to do. Where I understood the references to popular culture, they informed me beyond what mere storytelling could have done. It made me wish I was more in touch with the references.

I suspect that my reading would have been improved by taking the time to research the references as they appeared. I don't have the patience for that, but it's probably the way to go.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
...Be warned. The book is probably trash..

For the life of me I am not sure why I decided to give Telegraph Avenue a read. I tried to read one of Michael Chabon's other novels - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - and disliked that book. So why I thought I would enjoy reading Telegraph Avenue is anyone's guess.

Anyway, I will do you all a favour and tell you not to bother reading this novel. If you are looking for a novel that involves drama, a record store, and a whole cast of interesting characters read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. A much MUCH better novel that is better written and a hell of a lot more interesting.

Telegraph Avenue just goes on and on and on with what seemed to me to be a whole lot of pointless writing. The book, according to Amazon tops out at 480 pages. Chabon could have easily brought this sucker in around 400 or so pages had he just focused his writing and stopped trying to lay all this white man guilt throughout the novel. Message to Michael. We get it. Being black in America is hard. No need to beat yourself (and us) up over it.

Skip this novel. There are plenty of other GREAT books out there to read. Especially with summer here. Summer reading should not be spent on slow moving, crummy plot bearing, books like this.

'Nuff said.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  377 reviews
242 of 277 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great novel should not be a chore to read....this one was a chore Sept. 11 2012
By Book Him Danno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I thought I should start with my bias first, so you can understand where I am coming from.

A great novel should not be a chore to read.

The first 30% of this book crawled along introducing many characters with too little action. So I had the double problem of both trying to be engaged in the limited plot and trying to figure out who was who and why they were even present. The story did finally get moving as you got (way) into it, but it was work, not enjoyment. And then he hits you with part 3, an 11 page sentence. I have read elsewhere that this demonstrates a masterful command of the English language, but it struck me as tedious and extremely hard to follow.

Is there value to getting to the end of this book; most definitely, but you have to really want it. It reminds me of a gourmet food that initially tastes terrible, but the connoisseur will say it is an acquired taste. If you keep working through it you will end up loving it. I think Chabon is asking a little too much of his readers to work through it. It seemed he was trying too hard to write an ultrahip book, to show off his unique writing devices, and anything else he could think of rather than just write a straight forward tale. Of course it could just be that I wasn't quite smart enough to get it, and I will leave that to other readers to decide

In the end I was disappointed especially after loving his previous works so much. Specifically I can highly recommend Kavalier and Clay, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Summerland.
164 of 190 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The church of vinyl Sept. 11 2012
By Susan Tunis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Depending on who you ask, Michael Chabon is either one of the finest writers of the English language working today or he is THE finest writer of the English language, full stop. My opinion vacillates between the two. A reputation like that comes with some pretty lofty expectations for each new book. I'm pleased to say that Chabon's latest, Telegraph Avenue, did not disappoint.

At the core of this novel is Brokeland Records, described at points as "the church of vinyl" and "an institution." You know the place, or someplace like it--a down on its heels shop that's a gathering spot for a passionate community of its own making. Brokeland is owned by Archy Stallings (black) and Nat Jaffe (white, Jewish) and these partners echo the diversity and cultures of the Berkeley/Oakland neighborhoods straddled by the eponymous avenue.

This is a long book. It's not epic. I'm not even sure that it's sprawling. But it is full. By the time you reach the end, you will be thoroughly familiar with the businesses, marriages, and families of both Archy and Nat. You'll have met and followed their lives, and the lives of their customers, their adversaries, and one well-educated parrot. You'll know the intimate details of their relationships and their personal histories. Chabon packs a whole heap of detail and digression into the course of his 480 pages, and that doesn't even include a boatload of pop culture references to 70's jazz, Blaxploitation films, and martial arts.

Chabon's affection for his characters is contagious and it's hard not to love them, despite some glaring flaws. However, the Brokeland community is facing any number of threats. Perhaps the most looming is a media megastore helmed by an NFL legend that's being planned for the neighborhood. Their David won't survive this Goliath. Archy and Nat's wives, Gwen and Aviva, are also in business together, and Berkeley Birth Partners is likewise under threat due to a birth gone wrong. Things at home are equally challenging. Will Archy and Gwen's marriage survive his infidelities and the appearance of a previously unacknowledged 14-year-old son just weeks before the birth of their first child? A novelist recently told me that "the clock of your mortality is what moves you." Well, births and deaths are major events driving this narrative, and I'd argue that the clock of an 8-months-pregnant wife moves a story along as well. Meanwhile, the Jaffe household is dealing with their adolescent son's first serious infatuation--with Archy's teenage son. And also the fact that Nat is his own worst enemy. And into this rich stew is a complex subplot involving Archy's estranged father and a crime of the past resurfacing.

It's a lot to take in, really. There's a lot going on. Despite all of this, the action of Telegraph Avenue is character-driven rather than plot-driven. At times, the meandering plot seems almost incidental, as we peer through the windows at these character's complicated lives. Some readers may feel frustration with the digressions, but for me, every word was a delight. It was the path, not the destination. And the path of this novel is strewn with Mr. Chabon's legendary language, the staggering vocabulary, the abundant humor, the soaring similes, the awesome freakin' sentences! I, personally, am ill-equipped to articulate just how extraordinary his gifts are. The man is a virtuoso. "Buoyant," "joyful," "exuberant"--these are words that are frequently used to describe Mr. Chabon's writing. He takes on serious subject matter, and deals with it suitably, but his language is simply irrepressible.

Yes, there are some flashy scenes in this book that you will hear about--the 12-page sentence, the Obama cameo--but for my money Chabon's achievement is in the entirety of this work. He's created a world that's familiar and recognizable, yet somehow just a little better, shinier than reality. As I began reading this novel, I thought it was fantastic, but wouldn't replace Kavalier & Clay in my heart. But now I wonder. The real Telegraph Avenue is a short commute from my home, but it's Chabon's version that will stay with me.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for the writing; two stars for the experience Oct. 16 2012
By cornelljhr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read every novel by Michael Chabon. I wait anxiously for a new one and get it the day of release and start reading. I live in Berkeley so am quite familiar with the turf and the "inside" references. You'd think that would make the book more accessible or fun to read and you would be mistaken. It seems like he is intent on proving on every page just how talented he is as a constructor of sentences and dialogue. And he is!! But you can look at a great painter's work, appreciate the quality of the strokework and still not like the painting. It just didn't speak to me. The characters are not as well developed emotionally and psychologically as his prior works. It is hard to find a character you can like or cheer for or even just empathize with. And the plot lines seem to be shallow. But his writing ability sure does shine....but it's like using a super power for evil rather than good. Perhaps he is chasing the ghosts of Kavalier and Clay as so many wunderkinds chase the ghosts of producing masterpieces early in their career.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time. Oct. 21 2012
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the beginning, the quality of the writing draws you in and you believe that you're going to have a fun time reading this book. As you continue, you feel as if you've been sucked into a vortex of language and words and phrases spinning around nothing of substance. For me it was like being lost in a maze at a pumpkin patch - you're supposed to have fun but eventually all you want to do is just get out. The plot is thin and the story is hard to follow and the only real substance is the author's self-absorption which oozes pedantically from every page like an infection. About a half of the way in, I was just reading the book to get it over with - a very big waste of time. Telegraph Ave. is an historic and lively and interesting street, nothing like the book.
44 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars elegant and elegiac Sept. 22 2012
By Peter Giordano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One expects a lot from a Michael Chabon novel; after all, he's won some flashy awards. Telegraph Avenue is indeed flashy. But it is also a rich tapestry that captures a specific moment in time (an up and coming senator from Illinois makes an important cameo) and like all great novels it gives you the feel and taste and the sounds of that moment and it shows how we, as we live our lives, shape our lives into history. Every moment is part of history. In Telegraph Avenue we see our past, our present, and our future as strokes from the same brush, all drying at the same time, and all there to see if only we had enough sense to step back and look at the canvas.

Chabon has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and high culture but it's never mere name dropping. Every reference, every track of music, every frame of film, every leisure suit selection illuminates the era and the characters struggling to embrace their youthful fixations even as they try to pretend to be adults. The most minor characters of this novel have rich inner lives.

Most of all it's an enthralling and fun read.
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