Michael Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue” novel debuts at Oakland bookstore
on September 12, 2012
A white placard completely covers Diesel Bookstore’s neon sign: “Brokeland Records.” On each of the bookstore’s two large glass windows lie canvases displaying the same words in thick yellow and white lettering.
Starting last Thursday, Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue transformed itself—at least on the outside—into Brokeland Records, the fictional used record store featured in Pulitzer-prize winning Berkeley author Michael Chabon’s new book Telegraph Avenue, set in Oakland near the Berkeley border.
The inside of the bookstore remains largely the same save for the arrival of about 1,000 used records for sale, which were provided by the owner of the now-closed Berigan’s Records, which was the inspiration for Chabon’s fictional store. But the outside of the store is a splash of red, yellow, and black signage which has aroused curiosity in some customers and passersby while throwing others into a panic that Diesel may be closing, said John Evans, Diesel’s owner. “People have been freaked out by the signs out there,” Evans said.
Evans said Chabon regularly frequents the Rockridge bookstore and earlier this spring agreed to do an event coinciding with the book’s release (the bookstore is throwing a party Wednesday evening at which Chabon is expected to speak, but Evans said the event is already booked to capacity). Representatives from HarperCollins, the book’s publisher, and store staff developed the idea of Diesel’s transformation, a representation of the Oakland-Berkeley culture Chabon portrays in the book.
The novel, which was released Tuesday, explores themes of race and counterculture, focusing on the stories of Nat Jaffe and Archy Stallings, the operators of the used record store. Jaffe is white and Stallings is black, and Gibson Goode, the fifth richest black man in America, is planning on opening a records megastore in the area, spelling doom for the Brokeland duo.
Diesel Bookstore embodies many of the same values as Chabon’s Brokeland Records, Evans said. He said independent bookstores, like independent record stores, emphasize the social experience of interacting with customers over a mutual passion for the financial value of selling books or records and making money. “It’s like a social living,” said Evans, “and sharing that with other people is a great experience.”
Evans said the book accurately describes personalities and experiences that he’s had at Diesel. He said that for him the book evokes a “nostalgia about something that you already have.”
The bookstore is selling red-and-yellow t-shirts designed to mimic the book’s cover, and the proceeds—along with money raised during a raffle at Wednesday’s event—will be donated to 826 National. The non-profit organization, which began in 2002 in San Francisco and was founded by author Dave Eggers, offers writing programs for young people. According to Gerald Richards, CEO of 826 National, Eggers and Chabon are longtime friends, and Chabon suggested donating the proceeds from Wednesday’s event to 826. “When this book was coming out, he was like ‘Hey there was some synergy here,’” Richards said.
The organization operates in cities including San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. “We’ve been thinking about bringing 826 to Oakland for a while,” Richards said.
Chabon has said in news interviews that the inspiration for Brokeland Records came from Berigan’s Records, formerly located in Oakland. Now-retired owner Berigan Taylor said he had not read Chabon’s books prior to Telegraph Avenue and was generally unfamiliar with his work until recently. He said he was surprised to learn that Chabon’s Brokeland was based on his old store. “I can clearly just say he got it right,” Taylor said, referring to the characters who populate the book, and the customers who used to populate his store.
Oakland resident Rafael Valero, a masters student at the University of San Francisco, walked out of Diesel Tuesday with a copy of Telegraph Avenue stuffed in a thin plastic bag. Valero said he was originally going to buy the book at a Barnes and Noble close to where he lives, but instead made the trek out to Diesel—or Brokeland—to buy the book. “It just made sense to stop by,” Valero said.
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