by its cover:: the cheese monkeys

By Its Cover is independent book review column. Selections are mostly made based on the book's cover. I'm testing the old saying in my quest to find new favorite authors and books.

This one I totally picked due its cover...and because it had a uber-minor mention of Connecticut. Enjoy!

Title: The Cheese Monkeys
Author: Chip Kidd

I think this book marks the first time that upon completion my reaction couldn't be clearly placed on the love/hate spectrum. I didn't clutch it lovingly to my chest as I would have Jane Eyre. I didn't want the hours back that I'd spent reading it like I did when I finished The Little Town that Stood Still (I still contend that something was lost in translation with that one). It was not a feeling of pride for having finished as with Dickens. It wasn't passing neutrality as with chick lit. I paused, turned the tome in my hands and thought.

It's a beautiful book, in the physical sense. Kidd, it turns out, is a well-known graphic designer turned novelist. So this story probably has some autobiographic touches. I want a copy just to look at the cover art and the arrangement of the droll, expected, skipped-over bits of the book (acknowledgements printed along the covers edge, the image-based titling). Normally writers are concerned with carefully piecing their plot points. Kidd took an extra step to tweak the layout of the age-old novel. The risk was worth it.

As for content, the enigmatically named book (he never does fully explain cheese monkeys but that's not point) tell the tale of a nameless protagonist during his first year at a state university. He's studying art, to the discomfiting chagrin of his parents and the disillusion humor of himself. Kidd made me laugh by page 10. He kept me turning the pages, sneaking away to find out what odd assignment or social snafu would happen next. I yielded my emotions to his words, cringed and cracked up on cue. He won.

It shows the extremes of art (and in that way...of life), from hare-brained conceptualism to harsh thought-driven design. Another critic called The Cheese Monkeys a 'coming-of-age story'. I'm not sure it goes far enough to be that to me. The main character does come into the story a 'wide-eyed' youth and by the end is a little...well, experienced. But the book and its collection of characters and their lessons did make me think, they evoked emotion, horrified, thrilled and shocked me...the way art should.