Tim's Reviews > The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
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's review
Aug 19, 11

bookshelves: humor, formative, prodigy-narrator
Read in August, 2009, read count: 1

This book has great shelf appeal. It's got a gazillion illustrations ostensibly by our first-person narrator, a 12-year-old cartographer and technical illustrator from Montana—in bygone days he would be a naturalist—living with an entomologist mom, a bronco-busting dad, a sister older than her years, and the memory of a dead brother. The prose reveals a quirky character and rewards slow going.

But here's the problem: I'm only a couple dozen pages in and there are mistakes. It could be the problems of producing a complicated book. But if the nature of our protagonist is to be meticulous, and we have every reason to believe that it is, you gotta get the first chapter cold, I don't care how many sets of galleys.

The other, delicious possibility is that Reif Larsen is setting us up with an unreliable narrator. Ooooh, that would be great. But I worry. So let me list the ones I find here:

Page 4, Geometry.
I had once tried lining maps on the south wall of my room, but in my excitement to organize, I briefly forgot that this was where the entrance to my room was located...

The thing is, the door is on the north wall of the room. Not a big problem except that we spend half of page 3—the first page in the book—orienting the room, including drawing a map of it, on which we see the locations of his various colors of notebooks.

Note! August 2011, 2 years later: I saw a paperback edition of this book on a shelf in a bookstore, and, thinking about this problem, checked out the opening. Now it says the maps were on the north side of the room! So somebody cared enough to fix the mistake. Well done!

Page 11: forte
Gracie was a misunderstood actress sharpening her forté...

Hmmm. If this kid is pedantic, he'll spell it without the accent, because it's originally pronounced fort. It's French, the stiff part of a foil, not Italian for loud. This is not so egregious as

Page 11: Pirates
We hear that Gracie was "probably miraculous as the pirate's wife" in her high-school production of Pirates of Penzance. Well. There is no "pirate's wife." There are wards in chancery, of which Mabel is the star, and of course Ruth, the "piratical maid of all-work."

So again: did Larsen leave these in because the 12-year-old would not get them right, or did he screw up and not do his homework? I hope it's the former!

(Now, having finished)
I'd say the book largely lives up to its promise, but (a) the unreliable-narrator problems mentioned here don't get resolved and (b) the last, oh, quarter of the book fails us, becoming too black-and-white and losing its focus on TS's amazing voice. It's kind of like the arc of Nicholas Cage's movie career.
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Reading Progress

06/30/2009 page 29
06/30/2009 page 29
7.73% "Great shelf appeal, great start, but unexpected mistakes in the text. Bad editing or an unreliable narrator? I shouldn't have to wonder..."
07/08/2009 page 60
16.0% "This book started well, and despite some early mistakes in text, I'm really enjoying it. Read SLOWLY."

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Gail I'm finding a lot of mistakes myself so glad to hear I'm not the only one bothered! I've also noticed a lot of spacing errors (triple space after periods). As a freelance copyeditor, it's driving me a bit mad! We can only hope they fix the glitches for future editions and readers!

Colin I also found a number of mistakes in it, some easy to make and some careless. As I got further on into the book I began to suspect carelessness more than anything else.

Tonya I also found mistakes in my copy, most notably pages 183-214 are missing completely from my book! The things we bibliophiles ask from publishers and authors are numerous but I thought we all agreed on ALL pages being included in books being sold :)

message 4: by Harry (new)

Harry Tim is amazing at tracking these things down. But wasn't it fun to read this adventure. I also find that I am turned off by errors - especially simple things like spelling - but then on reflection I realize I'm only hurting myself. Like mistakes in live music performances - they may distract but they point out the difficulty of making flawless art. The trick is to leave your critic on the shelf and suspend disbelief. I do realize when you are picturing the scene in your head and all of sudden the door moves to the opposite end of the room it can ruin the mood. Ignorance is bliss?

message 5: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim I agree about suspending the critic! And it was really fun to read the adventure—and look at all the drawings. In this case, I'm sticking to my argument about the unreliable narrator: where we might usually overlook mistakes simply as mistakes, it's confusing to the reader in a situation where the mistakes might actually be information! In the words of the punk in Dirty Harry, "we needs to know."

message 6: by Louise (new)

Louise not that far in enjoying it so far i am not that bothered about grammer and rarely bother with it heard they are making a film of it !!

Christy He gives the latitude and longtitude of . . is it his bedroom? . . . and they don't match up with where he says he lives. I think this was on the first page or so! And he's a cartogtapher?

Courtney You got more likes then Amanda

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