The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

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The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by bookgazing on Tue Jan 31, 2012 10:43 am

As my post on this book is going to be a bit late I thought I'd contribute by kicking off the discussion here.

As it's the big, different thing that sets the book apart from others I was wondering if everyone got on well with breaking away from the main text to follow the various footnotes? Did you find the inclusion of notes and diagrammes added something special to the book, or did you find them distracting?

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by Stefanie on Wed Feb 01, 2012 2:27 pm

I liked the notes and diagrams. I think they added to Spivet's character. Plus, he is such a visual person, without having examples of his maps I would have been distracted wondering what they looked like. I also thought it was interesting how after Layton's death he hid Layton's name in his drawings. I noticed that late in the book, after he spoke at the Smithsonian dinner and talked about how Layton died and was able to let go of the guilt he felt, the last diagrams in the book no longer had Layton's name in them.

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by Litlove on Wed Feb 01, 2012 3:12 pm

Ah now I read that in a review - that the name Layton was hidden in the drawings, but look as I might, I couldn't find it. Can anyone point me towards one that I might be able to spot?

I'm not a big fan of my immersive reading experience being disrupted. So, illegal though this probably was, I gave myself permission to read only the margin notes that I wanted to. I liked the ones with back story about the characters but found a lot were just extra stuff. Like whether juice was better in boxes or pouches. If I really have to break off reading for a side note, I want it to be worth the bother. I did like the idea of including maps and diagrams (they seem to fit into the reading experience more seamlessly for me), but I sort of wished that they had had more to do with the thrust of the story - if he had mapped the tunnels and used the map to escape with his father, or something or other. I mean, I'm no Reif Larsen, but I would have liked more connection between the different elements of the book.

I do also have some questions.

What is the story of Emma supposed to add to the narrative?

What was the point of the religious nut in Chicago?

How are we supposed to view the society, after it turns out that T S's mother and mentor were both members and the whole adventure had been a bit of a set-up - but one that ultimately T S doesn't complete?

What's with the wormhole and the magical realist elements - how does this shift in narrative affect our understanding of the end of the novel?

Okay, more than enough! This may not have been a perfect book, but I think it's the perfect book to discuss because there's so much that didn't seem entirely clear to me!

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by bookgazing on Wed Feb 01, 2012 7:59 pm

There's one containing Layton's name on page 22 in my copy, the Megatherium diagram - his name is on the belly and on page 15 there's one in the front leg of the horse (diagram of Soapy Williams as Motion Vectors). Can I just say I was an absolute sap for that emotional technique and every time I found one it would squeeze my heart a little. I really thought the way T.S's feelings about Layton's death was so well done, quiet and touching, without being so restrained that the feeling was hard to relate to.

Interesting questions and I'll be watching for repsonses, because although I really enjoyed Emma's story like you I'm not quite sure what purpose it served, especially as there's no in book reconciliation between T.S and Dr Clare. I've heard that a lack of polishing is a big complaint against this book (as in it's great, but somehow unfinished, everything doesn't quite tie up in a satisfying way). And I wonder if the lack of significant links between some elements is a result of lack of finishing, or if they're deliberately left unexplained/open ended to tell us something about narrative and reality.

I don't understand the wormhole portion at all. The inclusion of such a sci-fi element reminded me a bit of last year's selection 'Wild Life', which was very realist in a way that even urband fantasy isn't, but threw in a sci-fi/fantasy element. And I'm not really sure I have to context to understand what such a mix is meant to contribute to books, what fantasy/sci-fi traditions it stems from.

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by Stefanie on Wed Feb 01, 2012 11:44 pm

There are quite a lot of diagrams with Layton's name in them, I looked as I read because I wanted to try and catch the author in case he thought no one was looking. Very Happy I thought it was a nice touch too Jodie, and I liked the way the whole story about what happened was revealed in little pieces.

I am baffled by Emma's story too. The only thing I can think of is that it shows that T.S. doesn't know Dr. Clair very well since he was so surprised she had written the story. I was hoping it would go further and maybe speak to why Emma married Tearho and why all the women who seemed to be scientists ended up marrying men who more or less took them away from the scientific world. But the whole thing just kind of sits there as nothing more than something to fill the time while T.S. was on the train.

As for the wormhole, I took it as being something silly and geeky and sort of "Area 51" conspiracy nerds obsessiveness. I also thought it was maybe a joke since the wormhole is somewhere around Iowa and if you have never driven through Iowa, it is a state that is completely flat with corn field after corn field, and incredibly monotonous. After awhile time starts to feeling like it is slowing down and you are going nowhere.

The religious guy in Chicago, Merrymore I think his name was, was kind of weird. But he almost kills T.S. and T.S. almost lets him because T.S. feels like her deserves it for what happened to Layton. T.S. has a sort of cause and effect belief, a what goes around comes around, and he thinks that Merrymore is the universe coming back to get him. At least that's how I read it.

Still thinking about the Megatherium Club because I haven't figured out what to make of it either.

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by bookgazing on Thu Feb 02, 2012 11:33 am

Ooo wormholes and conspiracy theories, well that would tie in well thematically with the Megatherium Club, wouldn't it, which is kind of like The Masons?

I'd also really like to know what everyone made of the Native American family heritage of the Spivets and the way Nativ Americans occassionally turned up in a novel that is at times very nostalgic for the Old West. There were a couple of footnotes about race where T.S's experiences kindness from racists he meets that made me wonder if Native American readers/scholars would be examining his inclusion of NA characters a bit more critically than I was.

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by Litlove on Fri Feb 03, 2012 10:07 am

Jodie- that's fab, thank you! Now I can actually see the name, and it IS touching. I agree that the whole Layton storyline was well done and satisfying. And another thing I really liked but have failed to mention is how funny TS's voice is. Some of the remarks he came out with had me creasing up.

Stefanie - yes! Okay I get it. I do recall now that TS thinks maybe Merrymore is just payment for his guilt over Layton and then he kicks back. So that's clear now.

As far as I can see, then, we've got these two themes playing around the narrative - the geeky Megatherium club and the slightly sci-fi elements, and the old West nostalgia, which I agree with you Jodie is very prominent. In a sense these are the two DNA strands that TS inherits from his mother and father - scientific geeks and down-to-earth cowboys. So maybe that's what it's sort of about - his father rescuing him in the end from the mad world of his mother, in order to balance out his life, make him more rounded as he grows up?

Your questions about Native Americans are very good, Jodie, but I'm not sure what to think about that. Maybe Stefanie will be more clued into that particular conflict.

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Re: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Post by Stefanie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 6:09 pm

Oh Litlove, I like how you have put the two themes together! Perhaps it is all about finding balance. And also TS figuring out his place in the world but that's also part of finding a balance.

As for the Native American question, I personally thought it was kind of weird and felt a bit uncomfortable about it. White people appropriating Native American names is nothing new but personally I don't find it ok. There are still too many unresolved issues between the US government and native peoples for the name appropriation to feel anything but oppressive even if it was not meant in that way. And the shadow sparrow thing in the railyard, that made me cringe a little too. That's my feelings about it. In MN we have a large Ojibway population who are frequently in the news for challenging treaty rights so it's something I pay attentin to. I imagine there are quite a lot of people in the U.S. who wouldn't even notice or question it though.

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