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Michael Chabon on 'Telegraph Avenue'

Award-winning author opens up about his new book, his family, vinyl records and his writing style

Michael Chabon's new novel, Telegraph Avenue, is about two deeply intertwined families in Oakland, Calif. — one black, the other white. The story takes place in 2004, mainly in and around a store owned by the two fathers. Called Brokeland Records and a haven for secondhand-vinyl aficionados, the store is suddenly threatened by a rich ex-NFL player's plans to build a megastore in the neighborhood. The mothers from each family are midwives in practice together, and their sons are involved in a complicated friendship. It's a quirky tale, told by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon with his typical enthusiasm for colorful description and elaborate metaphor. His style sometimes gets in the way of the story and he may test some readers' patience with a single 12-page sentence but, overall, his writing is just jaw-droppingly good.

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AARP Interview with Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon talks about "Telegraph Avenue," vinyl records and family. — Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

We talked to Chabon recently about his writing, his vinyl records and that 12-page sentence.

Q: Why set this story in Oakland?

A: I live in Berkeley, right on the Berkeley/Oakland line. I walked into a used-record store in Oakland one day back in 1999, and saw all these guys who were black and white sitting around shooting the breeze. I was struck by the way — at least at the moment I was in the store that day — they had succeeded in creating this magical space where all the other differences between them seemed to drop away and they were united by their common passion for vintage vinyl.

Q: You have one sentence in the book that's 12 pages long. What's up with that?

A: Well, I was beginning the second half of the novel, and felt I needed to check in on all of my characters and see what they were all doing. I thought, "What if I could do it with one sentence, and capture that exhilarating swoop you get from a tracking shot in a movie?" And then I thought about having a bird do it, like a bird's-eye view in a sense. Thus the parrot.

Q: Do you have a turntable?

A: I do. I listen to it every day while I work. You have to get up every 20 minutes to turn the record over or put on a new record. I discovered that it's a really good regimen to get the blood flowing. I've gone over almost completely to vinyl at this point.

Next: How does Michael Chabon differ from other writers? »

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video extra

In this excerpt from AARP's My Generation, you'll meet people like author Michael Chabon who will always have a place in their hearts for LPs, 45s and other vinyl artifacts. When you ask why, they'll often say "They just sound better!" Watch.

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