Pulitzer Prize-winning author inspires Houston

Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author Michael Chabon read from his latest novel Monday at the Alley Theatre as part of the 2012-2013 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.

Chabon’s latest novel “Telegraph Avenue” finds two closely-tied Oakland, Calif., record store workers threatened by a big business media outlet opening down the street. The two men plot to avoid the demise of their beloved tavern of vinyl and conversation while dealing with matters of familial strife, including doubtful anxiety of impending fatherhood, infidelity and dodgy father-son relationships.

In tribute to novelist Zadie Smith, who was originally scheduled to read for the series but could not make it because of an upcoming pregnancy, Chabon read a passage from his novel centered around a child delivery by a midwife duo.

Chabon read through areas of tension in an otherwise comfortable novel, leading the audience through the tension and release of a realist’s depiction of a birth at home. Chabon spoke on his inspiration for constructing humanity within the walls of a record store, reminiscing on when he entered into a record shop in Berkeley, Calif., that took him back to his childhood experience of living in the racially diverse Columbia, Md.

“When I walked in this one day, there were two guys working behind the counter. One was black, and one was white and there were a whole bunch of guys standing around up at the front, teasing each other, talking about music,” Chabon said.

“There was just this vision that I got of this little magical space that these guys created around their shared passion for music and for vinyl in particular.”

“Telegraph Avenue” harks back to the 1970s with rich descriptions of cultural indicators of the time: Characters drive vintage automobiles, handle dated soul vinyl records and hang onto the blaxploitation relics of the decade.

“You can encounter the 1970s all over the place in that area, and if you are from that time, then you just start noticing. It felt like it was a natural part of telling the story that is set there in the present day,” Chabon said.

A resident of Berkeley, Chabon noted his delight in building his own scale model of Berkeley and Oakland and making up unique characters who inhabit the area.

“I wanted things in it to feel recognizable to anybody that knows this area at all,” Chabon said.

At the same time, Charbon noted he gains pleasure from building his own world that strays from the norm.

“It is my Berkeley; it is my Oakland — my version,” he said.

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