On the Shelf
The yearbook 320 is probably a little better than 319; but it is still very bad. Its improvement, such as it is, lies in its excellent photography, improved layout, and new ideas. But its organization, treatment of subject matter, and prose style seem only the products of years of remarkably sustained mediocrity.
320's photographic editors have benefited enormously this year from their experimental use of natural light photography. The dividers between different sections of the book, and the pictures which introduce the house articles are very well done, especially the silhouette shot of the Dunster, Eliot, and Lowell towers, and the photo of the commuters in the M.T.A. The articles, however, do not approach the standard set by the photography.
The editors made a commendable attempt to highlight important issues of the year in special feature articles on expansion, the theater, politics, tutorial, and religion. But the wooden prose of these articles overlays and calls to attention ideas based on straw men and poor research. The article on expansion, important as the subject is, is only a -dull and wordy rehearsal of well known arguments on both sides of the issue, and a listing of some of the financial and personnel problems. Throughout the article confusingly mixes the task of raising funds for a home to care for the present overcrowding with the quite different problem of expansion itself. The faculty and student debates over the problem are hardly mentioned, let alone adequately depicted. Nor are we told whether the interesting sketches of the new house are merely "dramatic conceptions" or seriously-considered plans.
The article on religion is abysmally bad. The lack of research and factual mistakes are matched by the jargon-filled sentences, and shoddy organization. The incorrect use of such words as "chiliastic," and sentences like "..the possibility of a student existing in an associative void is practically nil" are typical. For the second time the impact of The Rev. George A. Buttrick on Memorial Church and undergraduate church-going habits is ignored. The Christian Fellowship, an extremely unrepresentative, largely fundamentalist group, is used to represent Protestant students on campus, and is compared with Hillel and the Catholic Club. For the second time, the DeMolay Club is treated in a very flip and condescending manner. It is hard to understand why the yearbook editors single it out from all the organizations in the college and accuse it of making "few positive contributions to the Harvard scene."
The article on political organizations, while much better, unjustifiably plays down a hectic year of squabbles over the political forum, Conservative Club machinations, and HYRC antics, with a rather naive discussion of "unity." It ignores the wide development of the Debate Council's activities, especially in the houses, during the past year. The articles on faculty promotion and tutorial, while poorly written, are good ideas. The feature on the theatre, best-written of all, is commendable for its vigorous criticism of the University--a refreshing trait in a publication traditionally noted for uncritical praise. A few spelling errors, however, mar the article, which both deteriorates in style and becomes redundant toward the end.
In the section on publications, the yearbook editors advise themselves, "Try something new in the Yearbook this year. Put some personality into the houses." It is both disappointing and ironic, then, that 320 leaves personality, which is already in the houses, out of their articles about them. The house articles are all too short, having suffered most from the Yearbook's general reduction in size. Approximately one-fourth their regular length, the house descriptions cannot adequately discuss personality, or even stereotypes. Adams, the freshman's "first choice than any other house" (sic) is described tritely and dully; Dunster's "party house" stereotype is reapplied and not examined; amazingly diverse Eliot House is given two paragraphs; Leverett House gets a contrived and badly-written dialogue; and Lowell House is characterized in pseudo-Shakespearean writing of the worst sort. Intimacy and flavor are hard to achieve in descriptions of eight structures which defy categorization, but 320 has not even tried. It has once again failed to include references to house personalities and events which made 318 so notably good. The editors of 320 wisely categorized many of the relatively inactive and insignificant clubs under "Hobbies," and "Academic Organizations." But they have gone too far: PBH, the Student Council, and the publications should have been treated separately instead of lumped together as "Service Organizations" and "Publications." The book's organization is also defective; the editors insert two pages of Hasty Pudding Show pictures between a series of serious articles and the faculty section. All the senior pictures are put together, with only an introductory house name to distinguish the members of each house. Abandoning both 318's index and insertion of the appropriate house article between each section of pictures, and 319's device of putting house names at the bottom of each page, 320's editors have made it difficult to find one's fellow house members.
The inaccuracies are disturbingly frequent; the lead article talks about "casting aspirations on"; Sir Hamilton Gibb is mistakenly called a spring term appointment; Alfred North Whitehead was not a University Professor. For the fourth successive year, the ski team's lack of distinction is blamed on lack of snow, despite the fact that there was a record fall this year. The book's polls are almost useless. Only three of them add up to 100% of those polled. One amounts to 121%, one to 97%, two to 96%; one each to 95%, 94%, 93%, 92%, and 91%. In response to "How many children do you intend to have?", for example 23% of 1956 is represented as answering "one or two"; 56%, "Three or four"; 13%, "more than four"; and 3%, "none."
It is unfortunate that the Yearbook is not able to attract better and more careful writers. Still, 320 is probably a good buy, for it is said that age dims perception. Members of the Class of '56 someday may be able to look back on the excellent pictures and youthful remembrances and feel more nostalgic than critical.