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You Must Remember...This?

Three Thirty Six, published by Harvard Yearbook Publications, Inc.; 336 pp., $8

By Gregg J. Kilday

BELIEVE ME, there's no love lost between me and '72. With only the possible exception of 1961 (during which all I can remember doing is sitting glumly about while awaiting the onset of puberty), '71-72 must go on record as the most boring and undistinguished year I've yet had the displeasure to meet. Phillip Schorsch, stolen termpapers, Dirty Harry--you can't tell me memories are made of this.

But while I'm not inclined to sing an ode to '72, I would like to right a few wrongs. For no matter how down you are on this underachiever of a year, the current yearbook is bound to reignite your sympathies, if only because this year's yearbook--winningly titled Three Thirty Six--is even more resolutely boring than the year whose story it tells. Consider the case of Mr. Derek Curtis Bok. To read Three Thirty Six, one might conclude that the aforesaid Bok appeared on campus only once this year--for a brief, tasteful installation ceremony--before retiring primly into the never-neverland of Massachusetts Hall. Nowhere is there mention of Ms. Bok, of the General Counsel, of the Three Vice-Presidents, of the Seven Special Assistances, of the hobbits and the orcs and all the other creatures who this year descended on the realm of Harvard to free her from the darkness of the days of the morbid Nathan. Nor--for that matter--is there any mention of the university-wide financial crisis, the Design School show-down, Samuel Popkin vs. federal grand juries, the Graduate Students' Union, the PALC demands, HEW guidelines, Radcliffe-Harvard ratios.

Instead, Three Thirty Six presents what it calls "News Flashes" that summarily feature Daniel Ellsberg, Larry Dicara, B.F. Skinner (complete with University News Office photo), the New Hampshire Primaries, Richard Herrnstein, and Misha Petkavich. Along the way, Three Thirty Six reminds us that "Most of us cherish the idea of free will," that "New Hampshire voters like to be wooed," and that students "have given up protest because it is just not as much fun as blowing weed and making love." Darling, shall we join the action against the JFK Building tomorrow? Oh no, dearest, I'd much prefer we stay home and blow weed.

I can see you about to charge me with wrenching such examples out of context. Well, I'll admit you may have me there. But then it is very hard to determine whether Three Thirty Six has any context at all. I mean it comes out of an office in between Ivy Films and McGovern for President and it seems to spend half its time billing parents, taking portraits, and selling its product, but as for a theme...or a concept...or a unifying principle...well, I guess there just wasn't time.

THEY DID TAKE some pictures. You know the sort of thing: John Harvard covered with snow, freshman dorms covered with snow, the Radcliffe Yard covered with snow. And they kept the copy brief and the margins clean and white. But if you don't know exactly what games the Harvard Football Team lost or whom the crew defeated on the Nile or how the Russian Bells got to Lowell House in the first place, Three Thirty Six doesn't offer much assistance. Even worse are its vignettes of House life, which sound as if they are describing a string of Holiday Inns. Take Eliot House, for example: "Along with a fine physical setup--rooms, courtyard, grill, etc.--there seems to be a new spirit among the residents." Or perhaps you prefer North House: "North House may well be the most together house in the university." So visit. Harvard, where tired students unwind...

Three Thirty Six has no feel for the textures of Harvard life. One essay on the subject, "Creeping Sentimentalism," makes a few token gestures in that direction--summoning up memories of the Golden Age of Paine Hall, of the '69 Strike's Six Demands, of Turkey DeLuxes and Baskin-Robbins--but it remains a stone skittering across the surface of our common experience. Not that I want to tell you guys how to run your show, but I do envy you the time and money that go into your project. You should be able to produce a record of the past year that is a thoughtful, compelling distillation of the passing confusions. You could be doing high class journalism as well as discovering aspects of Harvard life that generally go unnoted (your sensitive treatment of the B & G worker is a good example of both, so it's no coincidence that it is also the best thing in the current book). Instead you appear to be writing off the top of your heads, taking pictures only at your own convenience. So, OK, enough of this blowing weed and making love. Maybe next year you should try putting together a yearbook. Who knows, maybe '73 will even do something to deserve one.

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