I received an autographed copy of Chip Kidd’s brilliant first novel The Cheese Monkeys for Christmas one year. Kidd signed it across the top of the pages. I loved it. I wouldn’t have expected him to do anything normal.
Kidd is best known for his book cover designs. If you’re at all like me you might not pay much attention to the covers of the books your read unless they really stand out.
For instance, I have personally taken notice of:
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- Greek Love by Katherine Dunn
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
- Dry by Augusten Burroughs
- Naked by David Sedaris
- All The Pretty Horses and The Road by Cormac McCarthy
And the covers for Kidd’s own novels, Cheese Monkeys and The Learners are both really tough to describe. Monkeys in particular has an incredible design. On the long side of the pages, it looks like it has someone has been at it with sooty fingers and has spelled out the words “Do you see?” But when you bend the book a certain way the smudges form the words “Good is dead.”
The book’s cover also contains negative reviews of the book. That was the original reason that I bought the first copy for reading.
Okay, on to the story.
Summary of The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters
I’m going to try to convince you to read this with only a couple of details. This book is best gone into knowing as little as possible.
Our narrator goes to an art school in the 1950s. He takes a graphic design class taught by one of my favorite characters of all time: Winter Sorbeck.
On the first day of class they walk into the room. Winter shouts at them to “Do it again. With style!” They have to leave the room and come back in, “with style.”
The student’s battles with Sorbeck, the lectures on graphic design and visual mediums, and the narrator’s ghoulish friend Himillsy are one of the greatest reading experiences I’ve ever had.
I still scratch my head at the end, but that’s all right.
If you read this one and like it, I think you’ll enjoy The Learners as well, but it wasn’t as good for me.