Michael Chabon

Author Michael Chabon will speak at Books and Books on Oct. 15. (Ulf Andersen/Getty Images/Courtesy / October 15, 2012)

Michael Chabon's new novel, "Telegraph Avenue," is like a child's bedroom overflowing with '70s pop culture — with used vinyl records and Motown name-dropping and cheesy blaxploitation movies, and set against a backdrop of racial identity in California.

More specifically, the book is set on what Chabon describes early as the "ragged fault line" between Oakland and Berkeley, inside a used wax shop called Brokeland Records that one character, Archy Stallings, dubs "the last coconut palm on the last atoll about to be flattened by the wave of late capitalism." That wave of late capitalism is Dogpile, a monolithic mega-mall containing movie theaters, clothing stores and, yes, a record shop, which threatens the livelihoods of Stallings and Nat Jaffe, the racially mixed co-proprietors of the old-school music outlet.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon, who will sign copies of "Telegraph Avenue" Monday, Oct. 15, at Books and Books in Coral Gables, spoke to us about the novel's nods to blaxploitation soundtracks, his upbringing in racially-integrated Columbia, Md., and race relations in America (well, America in 2004, at any rate).

Ever since you turned 40, you've said your books have been your attempt to reconnect with your identity. How does "Telegraph" address that?


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I grew up in Columbia, Md., a planned, racially-integrated city built in the 1960s between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It was a place conceived to be without rich or poor areas, and religiously ecumenical. So I grew up in a would-be utopia, and black people were very visible in my way of life. Black music was my music, and then I left for Pittsburgh and everything changed. I had this realization years ago that black people had become invisible in my work. Just as I set out early on to restore the prominence of genre fiction and my Jewish heritage, I wanted to restore black characters to my fiction.

It's interesting, because when you read novels like "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," you do notice an absence of these black characters.

I live on the line between Oakland and Berkeley, so I had a good foundation for research. For "Telegraph," the idea came from visiting a single record store called Berrigan's, where there was one black owner and one white. It was space where people could talk jazz and vinyl regardless of skin color. In my mind, it was Columbia writ small.

So, naturally, your book research consisted of you telling your wife, "Hey, I'm going to listen to vinyls all day."

It was a very painful process because I forced myself to listen to records and use vintage audio equipment. Just terrible. [laughs] Listening got me through the most discouraging parts of this book: Miles [Davis] and his post-"Bitches Brew" stuff, Jack Johnson, George Benson, Donald Byrd, some blaxploitation soundtracks. Which is to say, you still wouldn't catch me watching "Shaft."

One of your characters is an ex-blaxploitation star. Jaffe's son, Julius, takes a class about the movie "Kill Bill" at the senior center. I'll go on a limb and say you have only a minute interest in Quentin Tarantino and maybe Nick Hornby?

Well, the "High Fidelity" thing is a little inevitable. [laughs] When you set a book in a used record store, you think of that book. Tarantino was much more deliberate because, in my opinion, "Jackie Brown" is his best movie still. There's a sense of kinship in our interest in violence. We both grew up as white boys drawn to black popular culture.

Given your track record of comic books, sports, hard-boiled detectives and now records, you’ve been tackling subjects that make men geek out.

In “Telegraph,” two of the main female characters are midwives. I got interested in the work that midwives do because my wife and I hired one to help us with the birth of our second child. I knew I had this heavily male plot that I was contemplating, going into a record store, and I thought it was a great idea to counterbalance that and create a female world at the same time, one that was inherently dramatic.

Michael Chabon

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

Cost: Free

Contact: 305-442-4408 or BooksandBooks.com