These Hallowed Halls … Are Not for Chick Lit

red book harvard

I know chick lit gets a bad rap, but I like reading it every so often — the girl power-y, love-after-heartbreak messages may be unoriginal and formulaic, but they’re also usually fun, quirky, and a nice break from long, “important” books. With this in mind, I picked up The Red Book after hearing a good review from another bookseller.

The Red Book delivered on the unoriginal and formulaic pieces of the puzzle— and that’s about it. It’s the story of four Harvard graduates (class of ’89) attending their college reunion. Author Deborah Copaken Kogan drew her story from the real Harvard Red Book, an alumni-written chronicle that catches the Ivy League up on their fellow graduates.

She wanted to play up the difference between what people write about their lives (in the Red Book or on their Facebook profile pages) and what the reality is. The idea is interesting, but in practice it falls flat, mostly because her characters don’t change: they’re annoying in their profiles, and they’re annoying in real life.

The Red Book is the story of four ex-roommates and their families, but there’s not a sympathetic character in the bunch. Every one of them is rich, over privileged, and snobby. They have lots of education without knowing anything about life, and the choices they make in relationships are consistently selfish and naïve. After twenty pages, I honestly thought the book might be a parody, because Bill O’Reilly himself couldn’t have painted a more stereotypical, off-putting picture of the so-called liberal elite.

Kogan tried to write both a relationship book about long-term friendships and an essay about the face we show to the world, but she succeeded at neither. Its message is jumbled and vague, and the chick lit-themed storyline is just depressing. If you want a book that addresses how who we are changes as we grow older, that shows how our choices may change depending on who we’re around, and that explores the fact that we can be both proud of and ashamed by the choices we make, check out something by Emily Giffin (Something BorrowedBaby Proof). You won’t find her pastel-colored books on a Harvard syllabus, but she could teach Kogan something about human nature and putting together a good story.
Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.


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