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The Learners: A Novel Hardcover – February 19, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
A sequel to book designer Kidd's first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, this beautifully composed paean to pre-computer graphic design pitches recent graduate Happy (his nickname), now 21, into the mercantile halls of down-at-the-heels New Haven ad agency Spears, Rakoff and Ware. Kidd paints the agency with all the customary conventions of a mid-century office culture farce: lacquered secretaries, lunchtime scotches and broken-down businessmen. Happy wiles away his time in blissful drudgery until he fields a call for designing a tiny ad for a seemingly innocuous psychological study. The study is being run by (real-life psychologist) Stanley Milgram, and Happy is unable to resist volunteering; little surprise for readers that Happy finds himself a participant in Milgram's notorious Obedience to Authority experiment, playing the role of The Teacher who is ordered to shock The Learner with near-lethal doses of electricity. Though character development is less the point than jokes about behaviorism and old school office culture's last gasps, the experiment teaches Happy more than he ever hoped to know. The jokes are sometimes dippy, and some of the typographical pyrotechnics are on the twee side. But Kidd's ebullience and generosity in unpacking the art and practice of graphic design carry the novel. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Graphic designer and novelist Chip Kidd is best known for his smart book-jacket designs for Donna Tartt, David Sedaris, and Michael Crichton, among others. He used his innovative design elements to explore the relationship between form and content in The Cheese Monkeys, and he employs the same design virtuosity here, though critics diverged in opinion about how much virtuosity, exactly, was enough. While most reviewers praised Kiddâs design talent, a few thought he courted gimmickry with his page and font designs, and others thought he didnât go far enough. With the exception of the New York Times Book Review, however, reviewers agreed on Kiddâs ample literary talentâ"his dark, satirical wit, solid characterizations, and ability to explore the dark abyss of the human soul. For pure originality, thereâs little else like The Learnersâ"except, of course, The Cheese Monkeys, where readers may wish to start.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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I would definitely recommend.
Nor did I care much for the world outside the agency or Kidd's interjections about typeface and design. It's not that I don't appreciate these things--working in an ad agency myself, I was expecting this to be the most appealing part of the book--I just felt like Kidd was heavy-handed with it all.
The only thing that saves the book is when Happy is contacted by a Yale professor Stanley Milgram to create a small-space ad calling for volunteers for Milgram's now-famous experiment in which he tested how willing people are to follow orders, even if it means hurting another person. By placing Happy in this historic moment, Kidd adds interest to what is otherwise a pretty uninteresting book. Definitely a let-down after CHEESE MONKEYS.
Gimmicks abound from little asides like what metaphor, and content are, to the names of the characters, like "Sketch", and "Tip"!
Speaking of characters beyond the descriptive adjectives, they are undeveloped, and as a reader, I could care less what happened to any of them.
I trudged through and finished the book, hoping it would make sense in the end, but alas.....
Save your money.
Then I read The Learners, and discovered that even brilliantly comic graphic designers suffer from sequelitis.
Kidd's second novel isn't terrible, but it's not great, either, and when you're trying to follow the intellectual gut-buster that was TCM, that's not a good thing. The author once again surrounds hapless protagonist Happy with comically drawn idiosyncratic secondary characters, but you suspect event the best of them (Tip), would wither instantly under Winter Sorbeck's mocking glare. There's yet another journey of personal discovery, but it lacks the supporting framework of the academic year to give it structure and help move it along. And Kidd's attempt to tie the two novels together through a cameo by TCM's manic pixie dream-girl Himillsy feels forced and unconvincing.
I still laugh thinking of The Cheese Monkeys, which I read several years ago. A few years from now, I doubt I'll remember anything about The Learners other than that I read it, and perhaps that's for the best; better to remember the Kidd who shared with me some wacky college hijinks than the one who dragged me through the monotony of a first job.
- I felt the pacing of the book was odd. Really the direction of why something happened, seemed random and disconnected.
- I'm disappointed that a fun book that made me laugh went away and was replaced by something that seemed to be more horror that humor.
- The narration of the audio book was good, but also took on a dark tone.