There are ways that hibernation (software suspend) can be set up on linux. This is the best way to drastically reduce boot times.
If you are interested in making a personalized lean version of linux, then you are looking at a liitle steeper learning curve than if you were to go with one of the simpler desktop distros. But it is not that much more. I learned this way in my spare time as well.
I recommend Gentoo, and not because I am a fan boy. I personally do not even use it , but I have used it in the past. It has by far the best documentation of any distro and it will teach you to build a system from the ground up, from source code and a just a handful of tools. Normally building things from source code can have its own learning curve, but with Gentoo this part will be completely automated.
I've been using swsusp2 for several months now on a Gentoo-based system running kernel 2.6.13 without any major problems.
The only problems I've encountered are (occasional) increases in aRts processing delays, and Xine. swsusp2 will not hibernate properly if Xine is running, likely due to hooks into the video hardware. The aRts problem is a bit mysterious, but likely fixable with a restart of the daemon, I just haven't tried.
I want to ditch aRts altogether but there are some features of it I'm using in my frontend, mainly access to FFT data for the spectrum analyzer.