For better or for worse, there is nothing else like a college yearbook. This makes it easier for the editors of such a yearbook--they can pretty well set their own standards and exercise their own ingenuity, if they want to produce something really original, or they can simply compile pictures and records of all the people who are graduating, throw in a resume of the year's activities, and tamp in pictures at odd corners of the pages.
On what standards, then, can 316 be judged? Perhaps it is only fair to judge it on the aim which the staff sets for itself in print: "to publish a book that has some merit of its own beyond the sentimental value that accrues in a sort of compound interest on old Albums."
The merit certainly does not lie in the writing. Last year's book showed that the article on the year as a whole--the lead article--could be an exercise in good writing in an effort to convey the spirit as well as the facts of the Harvard year. This year's lead article has no spirit, no theme--except for one brief attempts to find a trend toward "purity" in a series of restrictive measures by various legislative and administrative bodies. It is essentially a rambling, not too exciting account of what went on in 1951-52, spotted with several minor inaccuracies.
The rest of the writing in the new book ranges from the competent to the very bad. Some sort of award for ingenuity, at least, should go to the creator of the following paragraph in the section on freshmen:
Suddenly, hour exams were breathing hot and furiously down the necks of '55. Desperate cramming and questioning of roommates were to no avail as the whetted intellectual hatchet chopped inexorably into the egos of this year's yearlings. When the smoke...had cleared, when the mental debris had been removed, frosh found themselves baptized by fire and ready to take on midyear exams.
The clear superiority of a couple of the House write-ups and the really interesting way in which a few of the minor organizations are presented point up the general inadequacy of the rest. The sports section is especially unstimulating; the minor sports articles read like schedules of wins and losses, broken only by pathetic attempts to find synonyms for "win," "trounce," and "beat." Admittedly minor sports schedules do not lend themselves to creativity, but this simply emphasizes the need to use the half page or so for each sport in some more elegant way than in a chronological summary of successive jubilation and woe.
The pictures in the issue are generally good. Quite a few are very good, and one, of Professor Finley eagerly following some sport, is extremely expressive. Unfortunately, the pictures have not been given the benefit of imaginative makeup. They often block continuity, rather than facilitating it, and are not bled, centered, and arranged in any consistently esthetic pattern.
One obvious way in which the editors of the Year-book could "innovate" was in content. They have included an amusing, few pages on the Radcliffe invasion, an interesting survey of professors' and students' views of Harvard teaching, which roams through the faculty pictures, and a not-so-interesting section compiled from results of a poll of students. This section consists of a series of islands of type amid a sea of ads and generally irrelevant drawings. It is definitely inferior to the similar section in last year's book, which was better integrated in every way.
Perhaps, after all, it would be fairest to rate the year-book, for seniors at least, as a record of the College. The seniors' pictures are almost all there, the activities are exhaustively represented, and many of the best faculty people are there, in passport size. For seniors, the $9.50 investment is a worthwhile one; they will undoubtedly consult the book frequently in years to come. But even here there are inadequacies. Toward the end of the list of seniors in each House, it is unclear which name goes with which picture, and indeed the orders of the two are different in at least one case. Furthermore, there is really no excuse for as many spelling mistakes in names as actually appear, in a book carefully prepared as a permanent record. A look at the official Register would have shown that "Eliot Perkins" deserved more l's and t's than it got; the Yearbook should be more careful about this sort of thing in the future.