I have to be honest with y’all. Before 2009, I didn’t give Oakland much thought. I had really only been there a couple of times for Wondercon, the comic convention*, back when it was off 12th Street/City Center and then once for jury duty at the Oakland courthouse.
When I got a job in Oakland a few years ago, I was at a loss. I didn’t know what I could possibly do during my lunch – there were no bookstores to go to (my last job in Emeryville was 2 seconds away from a Borders, if you can remember what those are) and there were no cafes around that I could partake in. As far as grievances go, I understand how minor these sound. I was so used to wandering around with a purpose though, whether it was to peruse the books in Borders, go through the shops in Bay Street, get coffee from random places in Emeryville, or even just walk to “my bench” and sit, staring at the ocean.
Then I remember one day, I was walking down Grand Avenue (or up? I never know how those things work) when I happened to come across Farley’s Coffee. It had apparently opened recently. I walked in, had lunch, got some coffee, and have been going ever since.
In the past few years, Oakland – uptown and downtown – has really come together and has become revitalized. There are a number of cafes (I talk about my go-to coffee places here), more restaurants, more retailers, more of a “vibe” if you will.
So now due to my love of Oakland, I was excited when I heard about Michael Chabon’s new book called Telegraph Avenue that was meant to take place in this great city. Part of the description:
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.
Meanwhile, there’s an ex-NFL star who is looking to open up a store in Oakland called Dogpile Records that could completely wipe out Brokeland Records and there is the issue of Archy’s father, a former blaxpoitation movie star who may or may not be back in town. And then there’s … well a bunch of other stuff.
I wanted to love the book if only for its locale but I have to admit, it took me a while to get into Telegraph Avenue even though I got excited whenever an intersection or a street I was familiar with was mentioned, as lame as that sounds.
Eventually, I started getting into it and enjoying the book although I can’t pinpoint when that actually happened. To its credit, when the book ended I was all like “Wait, it’s over?” I wanted to know about what happened with the characters and wouldn’t have minded to read more about what the future held for them. On the whole, Telegraph Avenue is above average at the very least.
Even though this book doesn’t rate as high as some other books I enjoyed, I really like Michael Chabon in general. His book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay remains one of my favorites. I got it as a graduation present from my friend Beth at a time when I hadn’t read a book for fun in a while since I had to do a lot of reading for college, especially for the classes for my Humanities minor. Even though a lot of the books were good and interesting, I was tired of it all. Kavalier and Clay got me back into reading, the kind where you are holed up in your room all day reading until you can’t read the text too well anymore since it’s been slowly getting darker because a lot of time passed but you were just so immersed in the book that you didn’t notice. I love that feeling.
I didn’t feel that for Telegraph Avenue but as one who spends most of my day in Oakland, I appreciated the book. Also, I thought it was cool that the main characters are into music and it was nice getting a glimpse into that world a bit, especially since I’m personally looking to double my record collection.** I’m not sure if this book is for everyone though since, in my opinion, one has to exercise a lot of patience in the beginning.
Back to Oakland:
Despite all the good I extolled on this city in the beginning of this post, I know that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in Oakland. There are parts of Oakland that aren’t doing that well and there’s still a lot of crime and so I don’t want to downplay all of that when I talk about Oakland. I don’t know how to go about solving the disparities currently faced in parts of the community and fix it. I do know that Oakland deserves better than the reputation that sometimes precedes it, especially considering all of its history. Here’s hoping that one day Oakland does achieve all of its potential.
*Yes, I’m a nerd. Happy??
** I only have one record so this shouldn’t be too hard.