Anyone who frequents the blog is aware of our penchant for road novels, especially those written by authors with Scandinavian names. This week's summer reading recommendation, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, fits the bill on both counts.
Cartographer T.S. Spivet has a serious problem. The Smithsonian has just awarded him the Baird Award for his intricate diagram of the Carabidae brachinus, or Bombardier Beetle, which mixes and expels boiling secretions from its abdomen. Unfortunately for T.S., the Smithsonian doesn't know that he is 12 years old.
T.S. can only see one course of action to solve his dilemma; he will leave his Montana ranch and cross the United States hobo style on a boxcar. Leaving his ranch means leaving his entomologist mother and his rancher father, neither of whom seem to understand his desire to map everything. Packing only the most important of his possessions, T.S. heads east to Washington.
The possessions are the cipher to this story. They introduce the reader to a secret family history, one filled with inspiration and pain which only enhances the vivid manner in which T.S. views the world, a world in which reality has become a mystery for the 12-year-old genius. Along his journey, he meets a homicidal preacher, a racist trucker, a sentient Winnebago, discovers a hobo hotline and comes in contact with a lost secret society of geniuses, the Megatherium Club.
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is a special book and a wonderful debut for author Reif Larson. You have to hold this book to really capture its aesthetic. Larger than a normal novel, nearly every page is surrounded with illustrations and elaborations which expound on the text. Each illustration is beautifully drawn and does not distract from the reading experience. It's the kind of book that exposes the inherent flaws in electronic readers like the ill-fated Kindle, which can be easily dropped and rendered useless in addition to other limitations, too many to list here.
This book is more than just a series of tricks though. At its heart, it is a book about family and how T.S. learns to exist within his family. This book is perfect for readers who enjoy Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer and John Wray.