4. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
It definitely feels like an accomplishment to finish the book I've been saying I'm going to read for at least the past two years now. I will say it took me a bit to get into it, to get used to the writings and maps in the margins and connect them with the rest of the story, but once I became accustomed to it, I read much faster. Although I'm not a cartographer or a fan of maps and charts in general, there was something about the patterns and connections of T.S.' thinking that felt familiar to me. There is never just a straight narrative in my head, there are always other tangents and questions on the side, so I appreciate Larsen's acknowledgment of that aspect of how we think. I'm not much of a spatial learner, but I'm trying to develop more appreciation for maps etc. and I think the book was helpful to me in that regard.
T.S. Spivet, a 12 year old from a ranch in Montana, constantly draws maps and makes calculations of, for example, how many corns of ear his sister Gracie shucks, how many were bad, and which pests were responsible for the bad ones. He gets a call from the Smithsonian that he has won the Baird Award, usually reserved for adults. Upon realizing that the Smithsonian doesn't know he's a kid, T.S. resolves to show up anyway and hitches a ride on a train out of town.
The runaway kid plot reminded me strongly of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which does get a plug from T.S. toward the end of the book (as does, strangely, Moby-Dick, although the only similarity I can conjure is that of the single-minded pursuit of a quest, except that T.S. can hardly be called single-minded). T.S.' journey is surreal and quixotic and is ultimately a conduit for his strange and intriguing thoughts on the nature of life. His insight is punctuated with the recent grief of his younger brother's death, which gives the story the shape it needs.
I would recommend The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet to thinker and scientific types, perhaps even readers of graphic novels. T.S. is a largely convincing child prodigy and I, for one, would definitely enjoy a discussion with him. Whatever the pitfalls of the book, including strange plot devices and unfinished business, he's worth meeting.