The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters - Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd is a graphic designer, best known for book cover designs (including Jurassic Park and those blown-up newsprint-looking covers). The Cheese Monkeys is his first novel, about a freshman at State College studying graphic design in 1957-8. Like some Doonesbury books, this book has some quotes on the cover from people who didn't like the book. ("Thoroughly sophomoric," says Entertainment Weekly, and "Kidd has a long way to go before his literary skills equal his artistic genius," says Time Out.) Unlike Trudeau, however, Kidd doesn't have an established record, and (sad to say) I mostly agree with these quotes.

Think of all the horror stories you hear about college before you go: horrible roommates in tiny rooms, the administrative hell of registration day, incompetent teachers, out-of-control frat parties, and the sadistic professor who loves to humiliate students. Oh, and then there's the incredibly hip girl who's so much more experienced: she smokes, drinks, talks back to professors and generally cuts through all the pretension and hot air that's easy to find in college, particularly art classes. They're all here, in one big stereotype, with some rants about graphic design thrown in, disguised as a novel.

I'll admit, some of it was mildly amusing, and Prof. Winter Sorbeck's method of throwing his design students to the lions yielded some interesting results. But for the most part it just didn't read very well. There was one passage when the narrator discovers that he's suddenly thinking in terms of Graphic Design, and he complains of the inconsistencies in the varous logos used by a bus company. Yet more than once in his book he is inconsistent with character names: is it Kirk or Kurt? Maybelle or Mabelle? Also, though his character is ignorant of art history (not recognizing a famous Picasso), he throws in similes about Pollack or Van Gogh that assume a knowledge of the artists.

I guess it just goes to show that you can't judge a book's writer by his covers.

A side note: at one point in the book, he discovers Sorbeck's thesis project, a bunch of painted kids' gameboards, and realizes upon closer inspection that none of them are for real games. This is partly what inspired me to create my Penny Arcade games and has gotten me to think about designing board games on more than one occasion.

Fed to jonathan's brain | June 18, 2005 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Remember Me?