Michael Chabon’s Real and Imagined Storefronts


Our guest blogger is Matt Werner, author of Oakland in Popular Memory, on sale now at Diesel, Oakland. Visit Matt online at www.mattiswriting.com


Jorge Luis Borges wrote fake book reviews of books that didn’t exist. Michael Chabon has taken this postmodern literary conceit beyond Borges. Chabon has not only written fan fiction based on his own writing, but he’s created stores from his fiction in real-life. Take for example Diesel bookstore in Oakland which was converted to Brokeland Records.


This fictional record store has replaced the independent bookstore from September 7-14 to correspond with the release of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue. Chabon opening Brokeland Records goes beyond book marketing. It’s an interesting addition to postmodern literary experimentation, in that it raises the question, What happens when a fictional store you’re writing about, becomes real? And this isn’t the first store to be created from Chabon’s fictional work. The Escapist comic bookstore on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley is named after Chabon’s comic creation The Escapist from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.


After writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon edited two volumes of The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, collecting comics by artists like Brian K. Vaughan and Roger Petersen drawn in the style of the Golden Age of Comic Books from the 1930s and 1940s.


To put these fake bookstores and books in context, Chabon writes in his essay collection Maps and Legends about creating realities that don’t exist, and he references Jorge Luis Borges when coming across mysterious book called Say it in Yiddish. Borges writes in his essay, Kafka and His Precursors, “The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” How this quote relates to The Escapist fan fiction is that if a reader who first reads The Escapist comic books and then reads The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay may think that these comics were created first, and Chabon later wrote about these in his novel (when the opposite is true).

Moreover, because Brokeland Records opened on September 7, four days before the release of Telegraph Avenue, a tourist visiting Oakland and seeing the record store and later reading Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue could think the record store predates the novel (when the opposite is true).

Or instead of Borges, perhaps Chabon was inspired to set up this fictional storefront from a more local source: Dave Eggers. Eggers created the 826 Valencia Pirate Store in 2002 to compete with “Captain Rick’s Booty Cove,” an imagine a megastore of pirate supplies on the other side of San Francisco. Eggers created this because the 826 Valencia Writing Center building was zoned for retail, and Eggers needed to sell something in the space. This spawned the trend of where each 826 tutoring center has a fake storefront, like the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., and the Bigfoot Research Center in Boston.


And coincidentally, the September 12 book release party at Brokeland Records (née Diesel bookstore) was a benefit for the 826 Valencia Writing Center. It will be interesting if this record store--open for one week to promote the book--inspires a local business owner to create a permanent Brokeland Records, similar to The Escapist comic bookstore. Perhaps one day, an entire street could be populated with stores from Chabon’s literary works!



By Matt Werner

Author of Papers for the Suppression of Reality and Oakland in Popular Memory. Email Matt at editor[at]thoughtpublishing.org.