Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Telegraph Avenue

I was concerned for today's meeting since several people said last month that they were struggling with this book.  I told Ian that I might be home early because as far as I knew, only Carolyn and I had read it.  I was delighted when nine people showed up, and while only four of us had finished the book, others were in various stages of reading.  I have to hand it to Claudia who had been reading away while visiting her daughter in Pennsylvania and came to today after just returning from that trip - today!

It was a difficult book at the first because Chabon introduced so many characters right up front.  I had to write out a map of who they were and what their relationships were, but once I had that, I found myself captivated.  Peggy assured Barbara that if she wanted to keep reading, the second half was much easier than the first.  Carolyn lived in that area and said that Chabon, who lives in Berkeley,  was true to fact, unlike the last book we read.  Alas, I think that's was also my suggestion.

We were astonished at how Chabon kept all those details, plots and subplots going throughout the book, and if you can keep reading, it's worth it.  Mary gave up on the historic music references and skimmed though them - the only names she recognized were treated as bit players, like Jim Nabors who was one of the few names we recognized.  I was reading on Kindle so didn't realize it weighed in at a whopping 500 pages.  Ouch, and since I recommended it, I apologize right not.

The midwives, Gwen and Julie, were a very strong sub-story to the story so we were surprised to realize that fully five of our group today were nurses.  We ended up talking for quite a while about midwives and how they were once the only option, but not something we understand when contemporary medicine has made labor and delivery so safe.  We talked about the BBC series when midwives were an imperative but as Peggy noted, childhood mortality was pretty high in those days.   Mary said that she had looked forward to obstetrics when she was interning until she saw how fast a delivery could go south.

We talked about sympathetic characters.  Good grief, there were so many characters to think about.  Peggy found Gwen hard to like and we talked about her coming from a completely different economic background.  I think we all found Archy to be that guy, in spite of his foibles and there were many.  This is a relatively recent book and Carolyn said that she suspects Chabon is going to snag some awards this year.  She found study guides online for purchase which suggests this will become college curricula.  It's an ambitious book, but the reward is there for the tenacious reader.