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The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, April 27, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143117351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143117353
  • ASIN: B003YDXD18
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 7.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Book Description
A brilliant, boundary-leaping debut novel tracing twelve-year-old genius map maker T.S. Spivet's attempts to understand the ways of the world

When twelve-year-old genius cartographer T.S. Spivet receives an unexpected phone call from the Smithsonian announcing he has won the prestigious Baird Award, life as normal—if you consider mapping family dinner table conversation normal—is interrupted and a wild cross-country adventure begins, taking T.S. from his family ranch just north of Divide, Montana, to the museum’s hallowed halls.

T.S. sets out alone, leaving before dawn with a plan to hop a freight train and hobo east. Once aboard, his adventures step into high gear and he meticulously maps, charts, and illustrates his exploits, documenting mythical wormholes in the Midwest, the urban phenomenon of "rims," and the pleasures of McDonald’s, among other things. We come to see the world through T.S.'s eyes and in his thorough investigation of the outside world he also reveals himself.

As he travels away from the ranch and his family we learn how the journey also brings him closer to home. A secret family history found within his luggage tells the story of T.S.'s ancestors and their long-ago passage west, offering profound insight into the family he left behind and his role within it. As T.S. reads he discovers the sometimes shadowy boundary between fact and fiction and realizes that, for all his analytical rigor, the world around him is a mystery.

All that he has learned is tested when he arrives at the capital to claim his prize and is welcomed into science’s inner circle. For all its shine, fame seems more highly valued than ideas in this new world and friends are hard to find.

T.S.'s trip begins at the Copper Top Ranch and the last known place he stands is Washington, D.C., but his journey's movement is far harder to track: How do you map the delicate lessons learned about family and self? How do you depict how it feels to first venture out on your own? Is there a definitive way to communicate the ebbs and tides of heartbreak, loss, loneliness, love? These are the questions that strike at the core of this very special debut.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet: The Lost Images
by Reif Larsen

I initially wrote a draft of The Selected Works without any accompanying illustrations. After reaching the end, I still had that tingly feeling that usually means something is missing, and so I thought about it for awhile and realized that in order to really understand T.S., we actually need to see his drawings laid out on the page. T.S. was most comfortable in the exploding diagram or the annotation or the bitchin’ bar graph; this marginal material was where he would often let down his guard and reveal something he wouldn’t otherwise in the main text.

As soon as you include that first image in the margin, however, you've positioned yourself on a slippery slope, as suddenly there's this temptation to illustrate every single detail in the novel. Particularly with a digressive character like T.S., I found that I had to be very selective about what I wanted to show. What is not shown is as important as what is shown. In addition, many of the images in this book are not direct illustrations like might you see in other books—as in, "let me tell you about x and now here is a picture of x." Instead of a direct one-to-one correspondence, there's a satellite-like relationship between the text and the image, a kind of graphical parallelism. T.S. will talk about his suspicion of the adult male and then include a chart of male-pattern baldness, and it is through these somewhat disparate leaps between text and image, between the main story and the marginalia, that we begin to soak in T.S.'s habits of mind.

Sometimes I would include an image and then realize that I could now erase a piece of text, as the image was performing the work of that text, and often performing it in subtler ways. On page 67, for instance, there's a diagram of the patterns of cross–talk at the dinner table. Before this image came along, I had a whole elaborate explanation of T.S.'s difficulties talking to his Father at the head of the table, but this became redundant with the diagram; the visual shows it much more elegantly.

And then there were cases where I put in an image only to figure out after awhile that it just wasn't working. In honor of T.S.'s tendency to categorize everything, I've chosen five of these "lost images," each representative of a different reason for ending up on the cutting-room floor.

Reason 1: NO ROOM!
Image: The Thrushing of Dr. Clair’s Hairbrush (as seen through the keyhole).
This was an example of the illustration just not fitting in the margins. We thought a lot about the dimensions of the book—a size that felt novelistic but also allowed for enough width to give the margins breathing room. So a couple of images just got the axe. I like this one, though, and was sad to see it go. I now use it in one of my slideshow/readings.

Reason 2: CUT THE STRING, LOSE THE KITE
Image: Donkey/Dolphin/Dog
In an old draft, T.S. fantasized about his impending fame as he rode the freight train out East:

"I took a couple of stereoscopic photos, promising myself that when I got to Washington I would look into the possibility of arranging an exhibit on the eye and stereoscopic vision using the panoramas of the West. The West seemed a good a place as any to point out that our world was in three dimensions. For a brief moment, I was intensely excited again about the possibility of exhibitions like this one; exhibitions on x-ray vision and time travel; the sturdiness of human bones; the intelligence of dogs and dolphins and donkeys."

I wanted to just gesture at one of these imaginary drawings, and I like how in this very seventh-grade bar graph there is no label on the y-axis, just a vague quantification of "intelligence." But the original line was cut... I didn't want T.S. musing about his fame just yet, and so went the vague bar graph. Cut the string, lose the kite.

Reason 3: NOT DOING THE WORK
Image: Newton Notwen, the Turtle
In Chapter 7, T.S. turns to Newton's laws of conservation to help give him some theoretical sturdiness during his cross-country adventure. I originally had a sidebar here about Newton Notwen, T.S.’s unfortunate turtle:

"I still respected Newton immensely even if he did look a little like a child pornographer in his portraits. I had even named my first pet turtle after him: Newton Notwen, a perfect palindrome, because Newton Notwen had a tiny head that looked a lot like his tail if you squinted your eyes. Perhaps because of this reciprocal anatomy, NN died after only a week of living in the kiddie pool on our deck, although it could also have been because Layton shot him."

I made the tough decision to cut this because I thought it was too jokey jokey and wasn't doing enough for the scene.

Reason 4: TOO ILLUSTRATIVE
Image: The Valero Workstation
This illustration originally opened chapter 8, but I felt like it was qualitatively different than many of the other drawings in that it was almost too illustrative. It was the kind of illustration you might find in a graphic novel, where images serve a very different purpose of representation. We get the hint of the family photo, but not much else with this, and so I swapped it with the Boredom Box, which is ultimately more engaging, I think.

Reason 5: DULLS THE ACTION
Image: The Dock Cleat
When T.S. has his confrontation with the crazed preacher in Chicago, there’s a very tense moment of action. I originally had this diagram showing how Josiah trips over a dock cleat, but I realized the diagramming of the action actually lessened the stakes of the scene. Better to just give a couple of resonant images of the knife and the birds and then let the reader fill in the rest. The most powerful images are always those elusive mind maps that readers create in their own heads when fully immersed in a piece of literature; nothing on the page can hope to replicate their depth and intimacy.

And of course there were other reasons for cutting drawings: some were just lousy. I will spare you these lost images, however, as they belong in graphical pergatory. T.S. would not have approved, and let me tell you, I've learned a thing or two from Mr. Tecumseh Sparrow.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Wes Anderson will find much to love in the offbeat characters and small (and sometimes not so small) touches of magic thrown into the mix during the cross-country, train-hopping adventure of a 12-year-old mapmaking prodigy, T.S. Spivet. After the death of T.S.'s brother, Layton, T.S. receives a call from the Smithsonian informing him that he has won the prestigious Baird award, prompting him to hop a freight train to Washington, D.C., to accept the prize. Along the way, he meets a possibly sentient Winnebago, a homicidal preacher, a racist trucker and members of the secretive Megatherium Club, among many others. All this is interwoven with the journals of his mother and her effort to come to grips with the matriarchal line of scientists in the family. Dense notes, many dozens of illustrations and narrative elaborations connected to the main text via dotted lines are on nearly every page. For the most part, they work well, though sometimes the extra material confuses more than clarifies. Larsen is undeniably talented, though his unique vision and style make for a love-it or hate-it proposition. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
27
3 star
25
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T.S. is a stunning character.
Avid Reader
I will watch for other books by Reif Larsen and just hope they're as good as this one.
William Webb
The story overall is great but does get a little slow and drawn out in parts.
James A. Nichols

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Lance M. Foster VINE VOICE on April 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book has some really cool things that I enjoy very much. It is becoming more common to try different ways to combine text and imagery in fiction, most notably in the form of the graphic novel. This book takes a different route, relying primarily on text to tell the story, with diagrams, call-outs and sidebars in the margins to act as subtexts and footnotes to the main storyline. For me, it works, but then, like the young protagonist, I have always loved maps and diagrams, aka Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Of course, the map is not the territory, but it certainly engages one on many levels. Just for the format and the daring of the author, I would give it five stars on that alone. I had to deduct one star for a couple of problems, that I hope the author will work on for his next book; I do hope he will work with this form again as it has much potential.

Like other reviewers, I found the plotline is rather convoluted with some false leads that didn't seem entirely useful. The young protagonist is a 12-year old genius, it is true, but intellect, emotional maturity, and experience are not the same things, and I found too much of the eastern-educated author's voice coming through the thinking with emotional stages a 12-year old would not have yet reached. That has been played over and over in the stories of young adolescents who have the genius to attend college and get higher grades than their peers...but who fail miserably at the emotional/social aspects.
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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful By owookiee VINE VOICE on April 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author did a good job of presenting the mind of a 12 year-old prodigy. All the little asides and drawings in the margin that went along with the story were fantastic.

I was thoroughly enjoying the story until T.S. opens his mother's notebook and then we spent way too many pages on a whole separate story of his grandmother. Sure it gives background to his talents and personality, but it was way overboard in terms of size.

I got re-interested again and really liked the majority of the last half of the book - only to ultimately be let down again. There's a whole subplot revolving around a secret society, and the author basically took it nowhere. It seems way too elaborate for being just an excuse for his mother's actions. I wanted to read more about these people, what it is they do, and how T.S. will be a part of that, but we never more than scratch the surface of it, and ultimately, the book suddenly stops when you feel there is much more story to be told. The denouement, if it can be considered to exist at all, is a mere page long.

I think this good have been a much better book. It sadly ranks as merely okay in its present form, unless a sequel turns up that can take things to a logical end.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader VINE VOICE on May 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a twelve-year-old genius living on a farm in the midwest. His mother, Dr. Clair, is a scientist searching for a rare beetle. His father is a farmer and cowboy. T.S. likes to think of himself as a mapmaker. He doesn't just draw maps of land, though, he draws maps of everything from facial expressions to gunshots. One day, he takes a phone call from the Smithsonian Institute and discovers that he has been selected for the prestigious Baird award, for which his friend Dr. Yorn has nominated him. That phone call prompts T.S. to sneak on trains in his quest to get to Washington, D.C., to give a speech and accept his award. Along the way, he meets a number of strange characters and makes a series of important realizations about his life, his age, and most importantly, his family.

I'm not sure there are words to describe how I felt about this book. I haven't seen many blog reviews around and I'm really wondering why. This book is phenomenal. T.S. is a stunning character. He is clearly a genius but clearly a child at the same time; he makes amazing conclusions but then his child-logic can't always keep up with his scientific mind. I found this fascinating. I'm no genius, but I truly felt that with T.S. I was having a peek into the mind of someone like Stephen Hawking, although much more understandable.

This book isn't for people who dislike footnotes, though. Me, I love footnotes, and this book is full of them, although usually on the sides, along with T.S.'s maps and observations. In my opinion, these little asides added immeasurably to the main story even if they required me to read a little bit slower.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
No doubt "The Selected Works of TS Spivet" is a strong candidate for the summer's "IT" book. All of the elements are there. A 12-year old genius misfit as our first person narrator. A dead brother. A gentle loving sister. A story within a story. A journey. Revealed family secrets. Self discovery. The novel also includes a novel addition; as has been much discussed, Larsen's debut includes a web of lovely illustrations flanking near every page in the margin. Nor are these illustrations purposeless, as they are the work of our narrator, whose genius lies in his ability to "map" anything, from the anatomy of a beetle to his father's method of sipping whiskey.

Yet while all the elements are here, and Mr. Larsen clearly has a gift for prose, I am not sure that the pieces hung together for me as a reader. Our narrator, T.S. (Tecumseh Sparrow) Spivet at times speaks in the voice of an emotional adept with keen understanding of human nature and frailties. At other times he reads like an autistic idiot savant. There seems little rhyme or reason to these bursts of human understanding, other than the author's desire to delve deeper into the relationships of his characters while remaining in the first person.

Doubtless these sorts of issues are common for young writers, wishing to create material in the first person, but having trouble remaining within its confines. Yet even for those who are able to hang on for the ride - and to be honest, I was certainly able to for the first part of the book, compelled by the writing and my interest in the narrator - Larsen seems strangely committed to do his damndest to throw the reader as though they were trying to tame a wild horse.
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