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Fiction? No. Non-fiction? Not really. College information guide? Not exactly.
“The Unofficial College Guide to Harvard with Murder: or...Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Harvard but Were Too Dead to Ask” is in a genre all its own.
When I picked up the book, I expected to read about minimum SAT scores for admission, the most popular concentrations, and a few tidbits about college life. Instead, I opened up the bright yellow, blood-spattered cover to enter a world of vampires, ancient curses, and secret societies.
This bloodsucking tale does serve the function of a standard college guide, but the introduction of the undead livens up the process. The story follows one Parker Norcross, who has found herself stranded outside Adams House without an ID card during intersession. When she discovers a staked body in the Adams Pool Theater, her vampire hunt commences. As Harvard buildings, majors, clubs, or concepts are mentioned in the story, they appear in bold and an explanation appears in a small paragraph in the margin.
For example, the narrative reads, “Whereas nearly every male at Harvard would have killed to have the opportunity to join a Final Club, J. Z. turned down invitations from the Spee, Fox, Owl, Fly and even the Porcellian during his sophomore year in exchange for a quiet life at Adams House.” Then, the sidebar reads, “Final Clubs: Instead of fraternities and sororities, Harvard has Final Clubs, the epitome of elitism and good-old-boy camaraderie that continues to distinguish the Ivy League to this day.”
In this way, “The Unofficial Guide to Harvard with Murder” serves to educate the reader about the daily lives of the Crimson clad while also entertaining him with creatures of the night. It is successful in mentioning everything from Ec10 to Hillel. The bold descriptions are informative and amusing, describing not only Harvard activities, but also personalities: “If there was one thing Parker hated worse than being scared, it was being wrong. (Being wrong: Every Harvard student’s worst nightmare.)”
The book transcend the list-like quality of other college guides because authors Josh J. Cracraft ’03 and Kimberly S. W. Holmes ’05 recently lived through this bloodsucking world of Harvard. Their absence from campus for the last few years lead to some errors in the information presented (for instance, grade point averages are no longer on a 15 point scale), but these mistakes can be found in all college guides.
While “The Unofficial Guide to Harvard with Murder” offers a balanced view of this institution, it suffers from an unhealthy obsession with final clubs. Nearly every chapter makes a mention of Porcellian members, people who weren’t accepted into the club, and basically anything Porc. If a reader of this book came to campus, she might expect everyone to be sitting around the lunch table saying, “Porc, porc, porc, porc” (and not in reference to the dining hall food).
But perhaps this is what really occurs, and I am out of the loop because I live in Mather, “this real world Azkaban.” One of the characters in the story is taken for being abroad, but in fact, he is just residing in Mather. Though my house pride was at first offended by this characterization of Mather-folk, I thought back to days during the winter where I didn’t leave Mather for days, and found the description hilarious.
In addition to the blurbs in the margins, there are lists of Harvard stats in between each chapter. The lists range from the mysterious “Hidden Harvard: 15 Places You Absolutely Won’t See on the Campus Tour,” (I still haven’t seen or heard of 13 of these places), the painfully true “Colorful Characters: The 12 Types of Harvard Students” (including the legacies, backwoods hicks, and Rhodes Scholars), the useful “Where It’s At: 5 Well-Loved Concentrations,” and more useful, “Harvard Hookups: 5 Types of Relationships That Are Better Avoided” (including the Teaching Fellow/Tutor Tango and Quad/River Relationship).
While the information presented in the sidebars and lists is fun and informative, the Vampire tale weakly holds it all together—which is fine, since nobody would purchase this book simply for a quality tale about the supernatural.
Parker Norcross, her buddy J. Z. Crowther, and friend (who she actually dislikes) Neesa Barnett are all generally unlikable but strange enough to enjoy for a brief while—sort of like real live Harvard students.
I found myself quickly skimming through the plot to reach the next sidebar. Exciting plot points, though, included the insinuation that HUPD officers are vampires themselves, and that even though Neesa Barnett killed a fellow student, it is far far worse that she plagiarized her thesis. (“‘She didn’t write it,’ Parker finished for him.” She didn’t write it: Submitting work that isn’t your own is quite possibly the gravest offense at Harvard.”)
Though not premiere vampire literature, “The Unofficial College Guide to Harvard with Murder” brings to life necessary collegial facts that are always presented in a dull, informational fashion. Amusing for any Harvard affiliate, past or present, this quirky book would also make a fantastic stocking stuffer for this year’s final crop of early admits...though they may all arrive on campus looking for the Porcellian.
—Reviewer Aliza H. Aufrichtig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Unofficial College Guide to Harvard With Murder
By John Crowther, Josh J. Cracraft ’03, and Kimberly S. W. Holmes ’05
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