The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

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Overview

Discover The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet for iPad.

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 ...

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Overview

Discover The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet for iPad.

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.

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  • The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
    The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Meet T. S. Spivet, the hero of this unusual debut novel. A brilliant cartographer, T.S. classifies and categorizes everything in his path. But his most challenging task is to map out a route from his home in Montana to the Smithsonian Institute, where he's scheduled to accept an award for his scientific illustrations. For T.S., you see, is just 12 years old.

So begins the incredible story of a singular boy's life-changing adventure. Intent on crossing the country alone, he sneaks out of the house, catches a ride on a freight train, and brawls with some unsavory characters before becoming the toast of the town in D.C.

The Complete Works of T. S. Spivet is as difficult to classify as the world T.S. inhabits. So don't even try. Instead, find a nice comfortable spot to read the story of his journey, written by a young and thoroughly creative new voice in fiction.

Says Stephen King: "I'm flabbergasted by Reif Larsen's talent…This is a very funny book…that does the impossible: it combines Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Little Miss Sunshine. Good novels entertain; great ones come as a gift to readers who are lucky enough to find them. This book is a treasure." (Summer 2009 Selection)
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.
Library Journal

Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a mapmaker whose highly accomplished drawings have appeared in exhibitions at the Smithsonian and have garnered him the coveted Baird Prize, for which he is asked to come to Washington, DC, and deliver an acceptance speech. Unbeknown to everyone, T.S. Spivet is a 12-year-old boy who lives on a Montana ranch with his cowboy father, scientist mother, and bored teenage sister. Unwilling to forgo his award by revealing his age, T.S. secretly hops a freight train and travels to DC. Among the bizarre and impractical items he brings along is his mother's notebook, in which she has written a partially fictional account of their ancestor Emma Osterville, who struggled to be a scientist in a misogynistic environment. Emma's story in some ways parallels T.S.'s, as they both battle narrow-minded thinking in the world of science. Debut novelist Larsen's writing is as detailed and absorbing as a map, and while the ending is a bit of a stretch, the overall story is a delightful and poignant adventure. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Joy Humphrey

Kirkus Reviews
A coming-of-age novel that works very hard to charm. T.S. Spivet makes maps: of his bedroom, of his dreams, of his sister shucking corn on the front porch. T.S. is precocious, having established a considerable reputation by the age of 12. His career, however, is a secret from his parents, a taciturn rancher and an entomologist T.S. calls "Dr. Clair." So when the Smithsonian wants to give him a prestigious award for his work, T.S. declines the honor. Out on the ranch with his cowboy father, though, trying to fill the place in his family left by the death of his more rustic brother, T.S. has an epiphany: He is not like his father; he does not belong in Montana. So he hops a freight train and heads out across America. That T.S. learns a lot-about himself, his family and the world beyond his boyhood home-should go without saying. In its essence, this is an oft-told story, and the particular brand of quirkiness Larsen employs has become quite familiar too. The most distinctive feature here is the marginalia: Pages are bordered with T.S.'s charts, diagrams and explanatory comments. Reaction to the novel will, one suspects, be mixed. Those who are as scientifically minded as the protagonist will be irritated by the details Larsen gets wrong. It's jarring to read that the Spivet family has a photo of Linnaeus hanging in their home, since the father of modern taxonomy died in 1778. More persistently troubling is the fact that T.S. is characterized throughout as a cartographer, but most of his annotated illustrations fall well outside the standard definition of cartography. Not all drawings are maps. Readers used to the textual trickery of David Foster Wallace or Mark Z. Danielewski are likely tofind T.S.'s pictures and musings merely precious. But there's certainly an audience for heartfelt whimsy, and for an easy read that appears to be smart. Only sales will tell if Larsen's debut was worth the hefty advance paid by the publisher. Agent: Denise Shannon/Denise Shannon Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202179
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 225,899
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Reif Larsen is twenty-eight, studied at Brown University, and has taught at Columbia University, where he is finishing his MFA in fiction. He is also a filmmaker and has made documentaries in the United States, the United Kingdom, and sub- Saharan Africa.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Reif Larsen

When did you start thinking you would be a writer? I always knew that I would be a writer. Well, at least since the second grade. I went to one of these progressive schools where one was encouraged to write stories all the time and they didn't really correct your spelling. I remember that I spelled yellow with three Ls well into fifth or sixth grade because they kept saying, "That's great. That's even more yelllow than yellow." So I think I was encouraged to be a storyteller from early on. Also, both of my parents are visual artists so I was always around the creative process. It was okay to be creative in our house. Growing up, I thought everyone was an artist with a studio in the house. I remember once I was having a sleepover at a friend's house and his father left for work in the morning and I thought his father was leaving forever. I had no conception of what a normal 9-to-5 job was.

Did anything change when you got older?

Well, even though I knew I was meant to be a writer, I steered around it in some ways. It was very difficult for me to say "I am a writer." When I went to college, I started getting involved in teaching, and giving back to the world started to become very important to me. For some reason, I saw writing as this very self-centered pursuit that wasn't in that same vein of social justice, so I struggled with that, grappling with these two sides of me. How do I combine my compulsion to teach and my evident natural propensity for storytelling? I graduated from Brown with a teaching degree and started down the path of teaching and also doing educational research, but in my mid-twenties I had that quarter-life crisis where I asked myself, "What am I doing? I need to give writing a chance." So I enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia and managed to stretch that out for four years…which allowed me to write this book.

You grew up in Cambridge, went to school at Brown and Columbia, why set the book in Montana?

I was conceptually interested in the West, and cowboys, and why we're obsessed with cowboys, and with landscapes, and with what "the frontier" culturally represents for us. And with this book I knew I wanted to write about the son of a cowboy. Originally, when I looked at my prewriting for the book and some of my false starts, T. S. Spivet was a 57-year-old drunk in a Parisian prison looking back on his life on the range. Thank God I didn't follow that. So I rethought it and decided, "No, T.S. isn't drunk, he's twelve and he's hyper-analytical and obsessed with commenting and drawing and diagramming everything."

So how did you choose Butte and Divide, MT as your location?

I'm not really sure where most of the details or choices in my writing come from, but I can tell you that I've been fascinated with Butte for awhile. About 10 years ago, on my way from San Francisco to do an improv performance in Saskatoon, I stopped with some friends in Butte and had lunch at the M&M, a bar that for many years actually had no lock on the door because it was open twenty-four hours a day. There are a lot of bars in Butte; it could give any town a run for its money in this respect. Anyways, soon we were wrapped up in several long stories with some locals about Evel Knievel, the hometown hero and the Berkeley mining pit, which we had just passed on our way to the downtown. Something got stuck in my head that day and never left. Butte and its once mighty Copper industry seem so desperately emblematic of the boom and bust and beauty and tragedy that is all wrapped up in the West.

And Divide? Well, I wanted to write about a ranch, so I knew it had to be just outside Butte. I'm also very interested in the symbolism of the continental divide, that invisible boundary that can also represent the emotional divide in the family. I was driving down I-15 one day and saw this mileage sign that said: "Divide 1, Wisdom 52" and I knew this was the place. "It takes place here," I thought. I've since met a few people who actually live in the spot where the Coppertop ranch supposedly stands-and I was nervous to meet them, because what if I got it wrong, you know? But they were very gracious, and excited that I had written about their town. One of them even had me sign her phone book "in case I became famous."

You traveled a lot researching for the book?

Yes. I visited Butte a bunch of times, pouring over the incredible archives there, much as T.S. does in the book. At the height of its boom in the 1920s, Butte had seven daily newspapers, so there's a lot of material to work through.

At some point I also decided that I should become a ranch hand on a western ranch so that I could really experience what it was like. After thinking about this prospect for only a couple of minutes, however, I realized that I would probably be more of a liability on the ranch than anything. So I thought about what skills I could actually offer, and they weren't much, but I one thing I can do is teach creative writing. I wrote a couple of dude ranches, offering to teach a writing workshop on their ranch, and one ranch wrote back and said, "Sounds great! What's a writing workshop?" Somehow I got six people from around the country to come to this amazingly beautiful working cattle ranch in the Idaho Tetons and for a week we had this transcendent experience. We would workshop intensively in the mornings and then ride the range in the afternoons, and this worked out really well because it's almost impossible to hold onto anger or tension when you're on horseback; any worries you might've had about a particular story or insecurity or divorce, just drift away into the high country. We also participated in a real round-up, which was sensational. When you're working on horseback, the distance between you and the animal disappears. By some coincidence, the workshop was all women (except me, of course) and these women really got into the branding and castrating of the calves. I had to look the other way, but they were right up in it.

You did comedy improv at one point during college -- did you find that it helped writing the novel?

If you give me a script and I'm on stage, I'll freeze up because I think I'm going to say it wrong. But with improv I always felt so free. I was never nervous because there's no wrong answer. My brain works like, "Oh, you say that and I say this and we'll enter this wormhole together and follow this until we can't follow it any more." I love creating a world and then pushing the boundaries of that world. I write like I improv: I'll write something on the page and be completely surprised by it, and then I'll follow that little tiny thread to the end. With writing a novel, you can follow those threads and see where they take you; particularly with this book, where it was all about the voice of my main character.

How did you create the marginalia that appears in your book?

I started with footnotes. I wrote the whole thing at first without doing any illustrations because I wanted to get the writing right. Footnotes are so problematic in fiction and have such a tangled history. There's something sort of pompous about them. And they're an intentional break of the reading process, which is very evasive and annoying (particularly endnotes). It really disrupts everything and whenever I read things with footnotes, fiction or nonfiction, I tend to read a couple lines of them and end up choosing to skip them. So my question was, "What if the most important parts were in these digressions, in this satellite material?" And somewhere along the line, when I started thinking about the page like a map itself, that's when I thought maybe they shouldn't be footnotes, but they should be marginalia where you're physically directed to them, where your hand is held and you're led to them through arrows and such.

What did you draw upon for inspiration for the character of T.S.? Were you an analytical child?

I've had people ask me if I'm as obsessive as T.S., if I map everything and keep a notebook. Well, I was very into maps as a kid. I spent a lot of time with the National Geographic Atlas, poring over these maps of distant places, looking through the index of all these exotic names. I think a map is like a good story in that it gives us just enough to sink our teeth into but also leaves enough room for us to fill in the gaps with our own memories and stories. I'd make up crazy stories about Uzbekistan and what went on there and create these from one island to another. In seventh grade one of the tasks they gave us was to draw the world by memory, which some people dreaded but I really got into. I can still sketch a world map fairly accurately. There's a character in the book, Corlis Benefideo, borrowed from a Barry Lopez short story, who says that we've lost touch with really knowing the place that we're from and this is probably true in the world of GPS systems.

As for other things I have in common with T.S., I do archive the world to a certain extent in notebooks and on my "writing board," but maybe not as much as I would like to. I have a fantasy where I have a room completely filled with notebooks from top to bottom-my own personal Akashic record of existence. But the truth is probably a lot less glamorous. I've always loved diagrams and the incompleteness of diagrams. For instance, there's something so satisfying when you look at those airplane safety manuals. I love their simplicity: here's how you put on a child's oxygen mask. As if all you have do is follow these instructions and life will be fine. But then you realize that's not how the world works. That's why we keep coming back to diagrams-because we wish we could follow a step-by-step program for how to fall in love or to live a moral life. So I love the idea of a kid trying to understand the world in all of its horrific complexity by simply mapping it out. And it seems like growing up is transferring the unknown to the mapped, for better or worse. I had an art teacher who said that he spends most of his time trying to get his students to see like kids again, since we replace what we see with an intense system of symbols. It's interesting to give a kid -- who's still largely in this pre-pubescent state of seeing the world sans symbols -- this amazing set of coding and mapping skills and see what comes out of it.

Are all the illustrations in the book drawn by you?

Everything's drawn by me. My publisher paired me up with a designer, Ben Gibson, and that was great. He helped to push the drawings to the next level in terms of giving them a lot of amazing texture and he really listened to what the drawings wanted to be. The final edition is going to have this amazing Moby-Dick spread at the end that goes across eight pages. I would have loved to have done that but there's no way I could have approached it. T.S. is obsessed with mapping the real world, but every time he tries to map the fictional world all his powers break down. Because the novel is infinite and everything is possible. And the Moby-Dick map is amazing because you start to see his madness around page three and then it devolves into this kind of fever dream of infinitum.

Have you thought about how people will react to the illustrations -- mixing art with text?

I definitely didn't set out with the idea to write a novel with images. People might say this book is "unconventional," but I think I'm pretty old-fashioned. In my MFA program, there were a lot of people doing very non-narrative, avant-garde writing and I wasn't one of them. I believe in character and plot, and sometimes plot is a four letter word in the MFA program; I actually really believe in giving these things to the reader. I think story and character are what gets those tenterhooks into the reader's being. Every choice in this book was driven by wondering how can I explore this character and express him on the page. In that way it's a very traditional novel, more so than a lot of novels coming out now.

How does it feel to move from "struggling writer" to "Writer" with a capital letter W?

There were certain points when I was writing this novel where it seemed all I was doing was writing a 300-page bedtime story. And why would anybody want to read this? But I've realized this, and it may sound stupid, but I've realized that releasing a story to the world is an act of giving. I've changed in how I think of writing. In its most basic form, literature is a giant conversation between readers and writers. When you read a book, it punctures your world for ten minutes, twenty minutes, two weeks; it pushes you off your orbit just enough so we get that literary chill, when your knee deep in a book and can't wait to get back. I think that's why we read. I no longer think of writing is as self-centered a pursuit as I once did. That said, I'm still very excited to be a teacher. I'm going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I know this. Some writers dread teaching and just teach to pay the bills, but for me, at least, the challenge of getting the students to open their eyes or nudge them is actually quite close to the discovery on the page. The discoveries that happen in the classroom are similar to the discoveries that you can make about a character. It informs my writing as opposed to taking away from it.

Your novel has sold in 22 countries around the world -- do you find that surprising since on the surface it seems like such an American story?

Well, this was actually a huge surprise to me, because you're right, this is quite an American story, really, almost like a traditional Western -- boy on ranch, boy goes on cross-country journey, boy finds answers. I wasn't sure it would really translate across the pond. But in talking to people, I've come to realize that the notion of the "frontier" is a nearly universal symbol, that there's a kind of longing there -- for brighter pastures, for a better time, for the end to our hardships -- and it's a longing that many people can relate to. I was listening to a radio program about how Dolly Parton can fill stadiums in Zimbabwe and around the world, and many of her audience members don't speak English, but they get the feeling behind her songs, the "My husband left me and now I'm broke" pathos. And also: a story is a story is a story. If something rings true to itself, it's going to translate. But, yes I was really surprised. I've been working very closely with all the translators. We've set up a blog where I answer their crazy questions about how to translate all this cowboy-speak.

You taught in Africa; what was that experience like?

I went to South Africa because I was really fascinated with the transition from apartheid to black democratic rule. It was a relatively bloodless transition, compared to the civil war that could've been and the new government seemed to put a huge emphasis on education as the way forwards. So I took some time off from Brown to teach at this school in Cape Town. I taught English and Drama and I also became one of the school counselors. I came in armed with all of these very progressive teaching ideas from Brown; I thought we'd do all kinds of experiential learning and set up all of these learning goals and I got burned in a matter of months. Very quickly it became, "How do we get these kids to show up to school?" That was the number one problem. My only achievement at that school was that I introduced a Student of the Week award. In the U.S., I totally cringe at those obnoxious "My Child is an Honor Student" bumper stickers, but in the faculty room in this school, all the conversation was so negative about students. It was like, "That guy deserves to be in jail. I don't even know what he's doing in school." So this award was just trying to introduce positive discourse-any positive discourse-among the faculty. And there were some weeks where they were like, "No one deserves an award." It was tough.

But just as I was getting burnt out there, one of the teachers told me I had to see this other school. "It's up in Botswana. Before you leave Africa go to this school. It's the future of the continent." It's this school called Maru-a-Pula, which means "Clouds of Rain." Rain in Botswana is a blessing so it also means "Blessings of Joy." This school is in the middle of the bush, with desert all around, and it's filled with these amazingly motivated students. These kids work their butts off. They take their A-levels, they're doing all this community service, arts, athletics and more and then they go off to these U.K. colleges and Ivy League schools here. And most of these super confident, motivated students are women. The future of Africa lies in its women.

You worked with a marimba band in Botswana. Will you explain?

One day I was walking past the music room and I heard this amazing music… it was the school marimba band. A Zimbabwean marimba is like a giant wooden xylophone, with these African gourds beneath the keys. There were ten of them, played by these students, and it was the most amazing sounds I'd ever heard. I knew right then that I had to bring them to the U.S., so when I got back to Brown the next year I spent most of my senior year organizing this marimba tour, where the band visited schools up and down the east coast. It was awesome, but it was a lot of work. For years after that the school was like, "Why don't you organize another tour?" And I said "no way," and then I finally last year I agreed to do it again.

This second tour had grander ambitions -- Maru-a-Pula had since started an AIDS orphan scholarship fund, and in addition to playing schools and universities we also planned several large fundraisers for the scholarship fund. Anyways, the organization of the tour was another six months of hellish, unpaid work and then the day before they were to arrive I got a call from the principal of the school, who was at the Johannesburg airport with the band. He said that baggage regulations had changed and they couldn't bring the marimbas on the plane. Could I please find 10 Zimbabwean C Major (F# added) marimbas by tomorrow? Needless to say, I went into a kind of fever, and was on the phone for six hours with marimba players all over the country, trying to track down 10 Zimbabwean marimbas. I talked with every member of the marimba community in the U.S. from Spokane to Santa Cruz, Santa Fe to Asheville, including the lead marimbaist from The Lion King on Broadway. After six hours, I had only discovered this: finding the particular Zimbabwean C Major (added F#) marimba in this country (let alone an ensemble of 10) was nearly impossible.

Then a minor miracle happened. I received a call from a Martha Jenks from Syracuse, New York. Martha and some of her friends had attended a Zimbabwean music workshop several years ago led by Alport (the director of the Maru-a-Pula marimba band and a legend in Zimbabwean marimba music). They were so inspired by the music and the traditions that over the course of the next couple of years they built their own set of Zimbabwean C Major (added F#) marimbas out of wood, replacing the African gourds with PVC piping. On the phone, Martha was a bit nervous that her marimbas would be properly taken care of, but she said it would be an honor for Alport's band to play them.

But we were one short...until another miracle happened. NY1, the local news station in New York, had caught wind of the marimba crisis and broadcasted a cry for help on their station: could any New Yorkers lend a hand to this marimba band en route to the states? I thought this was kind of amazing: New Yorkers searching their basements for that spare Zimbabwean C Major (added F#) marimba beneath the unused kayak. But New York is an incredible city: a woman from Queens actually had a spare soprano Zimbabwean marimba that she had bought while living in Santa Fe (which has that vibrant marimba community). It was the missing marimba, and the woman delivered it in time for the first concert. The tour was a great success, and in some ways, restored my faith in humanity. Or maybe I had never lost my faith in the first place.
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 19, 2009

    Poignant story for BIG thinkers, young and old.

    My 13 year-old son and I read this over the summer. After listening to the author on NPR one morning I was compelled to pull into the B&N immediately. At my suggestion the book was included on the summer reading choices for the middle school. One teacher made a comment about being a first book and there were a few common 'first book mistakes' but this comment paled compared to the praise overall. The page size (oversied) and the spacing between lines is briliant as a rest for the eye and a rest for the brain. His use of footnote information in the outer margins is exactly the way I think people 'think', laterally.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A brilliant journey that tips its hat to the best of Stephen King and the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis....

    From the conversations with himself to the scientific moments he has with others, T. S. Spivet takes us with him on his cross-country journey to better understand the importance of legacy, tradition, and sacrifice. A great read, especially if you are a fan of Pynchon, King, Emerson, and C.S. Lewis!

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Spivet coming of age

    Reif Larsen has written an excellent coming of age novel about a young boy growing up in Montana. The boy T.S. is an artist and curious about many things which he jots down notes and data about. The marginal notes are great fun and remind one of the classic Ernest Seton Thompson's book, Two Little Savages. His acceptance of the fictional Baird Prize for his ilustrations from the Smithsonian gives him an opportunity to travel on his own to Washington, D.C. His adventures are exciting and stimulating to a young reader.
    His election to the Megatherium Club of Smithsonian resident workers is an accurate description of a group who lived and worked once in the Smithsonian Castle many years ago.
    I suspect that Larsen had read Gore Vidal's miserable and poorly written 1997 novel "The Smithsonian Institution" and has done a much better writing job. The hero of Vidal's novel is called simply "T".
    The stimulation of imagination makes this a fine novel for curious and intellectually gifted teenagers. Would make a fine Xmas gift for your favorite teenager. I have listed other books a teenager would enjoy. One your products list does not have is The Magic Garden by Gene Stratton Porter. Excellent for musically inclined teenagers.

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  • Posted September 16, 2009

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    Unusual and Original

    T.S.Spivet is a young boy living on a ranch with his family.The entire family are self-involved and quirky.The death of the oldest son has caused them to become even more odd.The sidenotes and drawings supplied by T.S. give the reader a glimpse into the mind of a young genius on a quest to find out who he is and what he is made of.
    This would be a good book for a weekend of leisure. You will find yourself rooting T.S. on in his journey and sharing his triumphs and his fears.

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  • Posted September 14, 2009

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    The Marvel is in the Margins

    It's not often that I come across a book with its own sense of style. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is one such book. I picked it up after receiving the recommendation from a dear friend and could hardly put it down. From the moment you see the beautiful jacket cover to the turn of the first page you are drawn into the world of a little fellow named Tecumseh Sparrow, T.S. for short. The core of the story details his adventurous travels to the Smithsonian to accept an esteemed award.
    As with most good stories there are many underlying mysteries and questions that will grab the reader's attention: Tecumseh's disjointed relationship with his father. The death of his brother. His relationship with his mother to whom he refers to as Dr. Claire. And the oddly named but completely endearing family dog, Verywell. They all play a part in defining who T.S. is as a young boy and more importantly who he becomes at the end of the story.
    The real T.S. is a cartographer who enjoys mapping the world around him. He takes meticulous notes and draws numerous diagrams and charts detailing his findings of things common and rare. It is this one single character trait that Larsen plays on brilliantly in his writing. Because the real story of T.S. Spivet doesn't sit within the paragraphs of the 300-plus page novel. It lies in the margins. Here, we read excerpts (sometimes with illustrations) from T.S.'s journals and notebooks. The writings are acute and witty - almost as if T.S. wrote them himself. It's a story within a story where Larsen gives the reader complete permission to enter the world of his key character.
    Along the journey, you'll find T.S. at his most vulnerable and most clever and while you'll want to thank Larsen for giving him such depth you'll be relieved to know that in the end he is still just a boy at heart.

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  • Posted August 19, 2009

    Great Illustrations

    If not for the illustrations and great cover, I probably wouldn't have taken this book home. Aside from T.S. Spivet, the main character, I didn't feel as if anyone else was really fleshed out enough. The illustrations tipped this from a 3 to a 4. I started out gung ho with reading this book and fizzled towards the end as I lost interest. The book had some great moments and some that were not so great.

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  • Posted August 14, 2009

    Reif Larsen remembers what it was like to be a 12-year-old boy!

    I knew this book would become a favorite as soon as I looked at the format! The concept, and the execution of that concept, is so innovative! T.S. couldn't be a more appealing character, with his genius AND his flaws, and the author reveals that his 12-year-old self is not buried far below the surface. The graphics add a great deal to the meaning and the soul of the story; they provide a more intimate glimpse into T. S.'s character. I was searching for a symbol of parenting and the father-child bond as a gift for my son upon the birth of his first son; this was my choice. I can't imagine a more perfect rendering of the power and fragility of that relationship.

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  • Posted August 5, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    The cover alone was the initial draw to this very interesting tale.

    This is a fable but draws on what can and occasionally happens to very gifted children. The Spivet family is fascinating. Mr Larsen engages the reader with a set of strange but interesting parents, a fairly normal teenage daughter, a son that has perished under unusual circumstances and the main character of T.S. Spivet. I think that his mapping proclivity helps to keep his world "normal" in the sense that he can control his surroundings. The adventurous trip to Washington DC is pretty unbelieveable but it is an adventure. Really enjoyed the history of his family as told by T.S. The parody of the workings of a large institution (Smithsonian) speaks to many other of these types of places; seeking to advance publicity and donation procurement. I did not predict the ending and will not give anything away. But it was fitting.
    The side bar illustrations were not a distraction for me and enjoyed them greatly. It was a very fast read for me and had a difficult putting this book down. It was fitting that I just finished "Annals of the Former World" by John McPhee and it shows that Mr Larsen did some serious research on geology.
    I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly to open minded readers.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Unusual format!

    I really enjoyed this book with all it's sidebars, sketches and references. It was kind of like "reading" a Joseph Cornell box. I liked all the geological facts/mapping, the amusingly dysfunctional family and the story itself seemed very "tactile" in a slick, computerized world. I didn't even realize there wasn't any sex and hardly any "cussin" till I put it down at the end. The story was probably a bit far-fetched in some ways with the mode of transport used to cross the country but still a good read!

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    Totally totally enjoyable!

    Great book and more than just enjoyable. Interesting, presented in a very enjoyable and precise manner. Can't wait until the author puts out another book as didn't want this one to end. Can't see anything against this book as just loved every part and always looked forward to going back to reading it!

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

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    Great Gimmick, But No Meat

    The maps were great fun, but I thought that the story left a lot to be desired. I kept waiting and hoping for something to happen, then when it finally did, it wasn't much.

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  • Posted May 17, 2009

    The literature of the Twit

    "The Selected Works of TS Spivet," though real neato to look at and flip through, is a highly unoriginal and tiresome first novel, a watered-down rip off, basically, of everything from, like, David Foster Wallace to Dave Eggers. That doesn't leave too wide a swathe to wade through, to be sure (um, David Foster Eggers and Dave Wallace are kind of the same writer, me thinks, though Eggers probably isn't as sad, what with the hot wife, the movies, and the publishing empire and all), but wide enough to do something original. Footnotes: check. Pithy, Safran Foer-esque writing: check. Weird/hipster name: check. Annoying narrator: check. That's what I got from "TS Spivet," along with a better understanding of why literature is dying (it's not dying, it just seems like that in the mainstream press) and why publishing houses can't pay real writers real advances (yes, I am a bitter writer whose advance could cover a pair of sneakers, if that). Lason's novel is the most recent and offensive example of what I can't help but calling the Literature of the Twit, annoying, smarter-than-thou writing with annoying, smarter-than-though characters/narrators. Think Safran Foer, but also DeLillo's lesser novels like "Endgame" and even Holden Caulfield. Here's hoping Larson's next outing ups the characterization and the writing, and downs the fancy fonts and distracting dioramas.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2009

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    Intriguing and Different

    Completely original, accessible and fun. The tie-in with the website keeps it going. Jump into a new experience; even my dog liked it.

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