Living in San Francisco’s shadow, Oakland and Berkeley in general and Telegraph Ave. in particular don’t get the exposure they deserve.
Telegraph’s glory days are behind it, and in front of it. It is between trends at the moment, the dominion of nostalgia-minded novelists for now. That’s fine with me. I prefer it that way. As San Francisco’s cityscape continues to be shaped by the commercial end of the internet economy, the pen and paper people seem to wind up in the East Bay.
Speaking of which, longtime Berkeley resident and Pulitzer-winner Michael Chabon has finally turned the pen on his own digs, which are very near to my own digs.
The result is the straightforwardly-titled, “Telegraph Avenue.” The novel revolves around two longtime friends who run a record store called Brokeland Records, located on Telegraph at the border between Oakland and Berkeley (Berkeley + Oakland = Brokeland).
Beyond that, I know nothing of the story. Truth is, I’m more interested in how authors write about places than about the characters they come up with anyway. The good ones know how to imbue streets and buildings with the gift of life and make them into characters in their own right.
Here’s a link to an interview with Chabon from the Cal Alumni Association, excerpted below:
You wrote of Berkeley’s “mania for insight,” as compared to Oakland’s “history of tough-mindedness.” As a novelist, are you working in the Berkeley mode or in the Oakland mode?
I live right on the border between the two … and so I’m walking that line.