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From the Shelf

By Peter J. Rothenberg

I don't like yearbooks. Several hours wasted with 325, the latest product of Harvard Yearbook Publications, only strengthen this conviction. These comments cannot hurt Yearbook sales, most of which have already taken place and will take place again next year no matter what the CRIMSON reviewer thinks, so I might as well say frankly that 325 enjoys all the weaknesses that yearbooks generally share, along with a few of its very own.

Yearbooks, I suppose, are designed to be appreciated more twenty years after publication than when they are published. A picture inaccurately and incompetently drawn becomes more attractive as the memory of the reality on which it is based fades. A yearbook bears much the same relationship to a year as a newsmagazine like Time bears to a week's worth of world news. The subject matter it tries to cover is simply too big for its resources, and it must resort to generalization to conceal its lack of depth and background. This is quite all right if the yearbook or newsmagazine approaches its nearly impossible task modestly, but both 325 and Time are anything but modest. They not only attempt to cover too much in too little space, but also presume to judge and analyze their subjects. It is not surprising that the opinions come out as unsubstantiated snap judgments and the analysis as so much pretension.

With these glib generalizations and gratuitous slaps at Henry Luce out of the way, I can proceed to 325 itself. It is perhaps less pretentious than its immediate predecessors in its ex cathedra judgments and one-sentence reviews, but it still suffers from a normal yearbook failing: it attempts to transcend its primary function of reporting and to pass on to the higher level of analysis and art. In the process, 325 manages to do an incompetent job on both levels. The yearbook's version of the year just passed is not convincing now, and, unless my memory goes very bad, it won't be convincing in twenty years.

Given what may be a prejudice against yearbooks in general, there are still some things that one can like in a given specimen. The writing could be modest and straightforward, telling its story economically and in reasonable depth. It isn't. The photography could be good, complementing the text effectively. It isn't. The factual material could be technically impeccable. It isn't. Taken on its own terms, as importunate Yearbook types have been asking me to do, 325 is not very good at all.

Of the writing, most readers would ask some consistency in tone and a reasonable facility in expression. 325 offers writing that varies tremendously in tone, but is consistent in its lack of facility. The Faculty profiles are soapily reverent and incredibly uninformative. Some articles are presented in a flat, uninteresting style, while others reach for and miss flowery heights ("The snake enters and is metamorphosed: joint by joint it dissolves, filling the barn-mixer-exam-hall-box with paper-clips, each looking for its own special assortment of cards and papers to belong to. . . ."). The writing in 325 is generally bad, and, what is worse, terribly dull in its overall effect.

A good fifty per cent of the photographs in the year-book are almost completely meaningless. There is an excess of puddles and sunsets, and not enough of what we like to call "news pictures." Life in Lowell House is illustrated by several silhouettes of male and female figures; Quincy has a full-page puddle and a Charles River sunset. On the positive side, we can cite a fine portrait of Professor Robert H. Chapman, a good shot of Master Charles H. Taylor in the Kirkland Christmas play and an excellent football picture on page 172.

On the technical level, there are many small errors, of which I will mention two of the more egregious. The Dunster and Leverett shields have been transposed, and there is no such professor as Roscoe V. Pound, in either physics or law. One might assume that when the yearbook chooses a Faculty member (Robert V. Pound) for a profile, it would get his name straight; imaginative writing is too much to ask.

I still don't like yearbooks.

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