Sunday, April 08, 2012
Deborah Copaken Kogan’s Novel ‘The Red Book’ Examines the Cult of Achievement
Students and alumni often jest, "The hardest thing about Harvard is getting in."
In fact, getting in may be the easiest part. At least, that’s the impression we’re left with after reading Deborah Copaken Kogan’s latest novel, The Red Book. What’s hardest, we learn, is the pressure to attain a certain breed of success upon graduating from that elite, Ivy-League institution.
Those pursuits of success, however, belie the school’s motto: Veritas, or truth. For what these privileged grads are shackled to seek are fame and fortune--or the perception thereof. Every five years, Harvard’s graduates are encouraged to splash their accomplishments and accolades across their alumni publication, informally known as “the red book.” It is their bible of success and measurement. In its gossipy pages, it is recognition and reward that are valued, not the pursuit of truth.
For anyone who has grown up in the accelerated-maturity world of boarding schools and day prep schools in New York or spent time hanging out in Harvard Square or matching your actual life against the one you are expected to lead (either by your school or your parents), all of which are “yeses” for me, then you will feel the comfort of familiarity, the joy of recognition, and the pangs of disappointment that come from reading such a deliciously descriptive, fun, and insightful book.