Chip Kidd, The Cheese Monkeys

I reallyreally wanted to like this book more than I do -- ah, well. You can find plenty of complimentary remarks on Chip Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters online, along with more on his book design for other authors, so let me counter some of the compliments about his novel. (About his designs for this book and others, I have nothing but praise.)

The Cheese Monkeys is a summer read for people too good for Summer Reads. It's made for beaches and busses and coffeeshops, anywhere someone who might notice the cover and think "Cool" would be considered a potential date. The text complements the design well, in that it's flashy and grabby and seriously cool, but ultimately not more than that. It felt like a self-indulgent creative writing exercise by someone with the cash to get it printed by a vanity press -- and for someone with the hep-cat credentials of Chip Kidd, let's face it, a place like HarperCollins IS his vanity press.

I worry that I find myself siding with, of all authorities, Entertainment Weekly on this, which the back cover says found the book "Retro kitsch. Thoroughly sophomoric." I like retro kitsch, and have lots of things I'd describe that way -- even a musical snowglobe a friend brought back from Hawaii last year containing a chubby muumuu-wearing maiden riding a dolphin -- and I liked that about this book. But sophomoric, that I'm intolerant about.

Admittedly fiction is taking up less and less of my shelf space, as I fall further for non-fiction and cultivate my poetry obsession, but to me The Cheese Monkeys felt stylish and funny and ... empty. Not empty in a good way, not like an Evelyn Lau poem about doomed sex or a good bit in Douglas Coupland's Life After God, but just plain lacking.

Comments

patricia said…
Yup. I concur. Spot on review.

'Self indulgent' is really just the tip of the iceberg with this one. But was anyone really going to say no to Chip Kidd? Hardly.
richard said…
Thanks for the note -- and no, nobody was going to turn him down. And nobody will next time either, but it'll take some persuading to get me to spend much more time with his words.

His images, another matter, even if I'm having trouble seeing them as other than 'self-indulgent' myself now....
patricia said…
Ah, yes, I remember your blog now. I should have blogrolled you when I made this first comment, sorry.

I wanted to mention to you another book designer who has also made the transition into writing – CS Richardson, a Canadian, and a talented designer for Random House Canada. Here's a link to my review of the book as well as lots of commentary, if you're interested:

http://storms.typepad.com/booklust/2007/02/the_end_of_the_.html

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