I bought The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters by Chip Kidd for three unrelated reasons. First, it had “monkeys” in the title, and the monkeys included in the cover illustration were cute, even if they did look a little on the sad side. Second, since I essentially grew up on college campuses as the kid of a single-parent college prof turned administrator, how could I resist “A Novel in Two Semesters”? Finally, I liked the design of the page side of the book (the side opposite the spine). Looking at it with the cover down, you can read “GOOD IS DEAD” on the edges of the pages. Looking at it with the cover up, you can read “DO YOU SEE?” on the same pages. Very cool, and it should not have surprised me that a course in graphic design played a big role in the story and the author is himself a graphic designer.
I finished this book several days ago and am still trying to decide if I liked it, not a usual reaction for me. If I like a book, I keep reading. If I don’t, I stop. I never stopped reading this one, but once I finished I felt, and still feel, very ambivalent. Parts of the story were outright hilarious, especially given my perspective of having spent many years in the company of pompous professors, lascivious lecturers, and other campus characters. The problem was, I think, that I never developed any attachment to the narrator and his leading lady, one Himillsy Dodd (accent on the “ill”). The story was set in the late 1950s, but the main characters seemed somewhat out of place and time. I so never warmed up to them that I now find myself feeling guilty for thinking, after the fact, that if the narrator had not rescued Hims (as he called her) from the drunken frat brother near the end of the term (and novel), would I have been upset? I feel guilty that there’s a part of me that thought she had it coming.
Quality Rating (on Annie’s 10-point scale): 5, because I still sort of feel as if maybe I should have liked it more even though I really didn’t.
Audience Rating: Definitely for mature audiences. Though there’s nothing in the description on the back of the book or in the front pages that would so indicate, there’s material here that I would not have wanted my kids to read before they were, say, college age, or at least late high school.