The Learners, author Chip Kidd’s mix of office comedy
and self-discovery, will be the Oswego Reading Initiative selection for summer
The story follows a recent college graduate nicknamed Happy
starting work as a graphic designer in a 1960s advertising agency.
“Kidd paints the agency with all the customary conventions
of a mid-century office culture farce: lacquered secretaries, lunchtime
scotches and broken-down businessmen,” noted a Publishers Weekly review, paralleling the flavor of current hit TV
show “Mad Men.”
But when Happy decides to answer an ad looking for
participants in a psychology study, he finds himself taking part in Stanley
Milgram’s infamous experiment at Yale on obedience to authority. Happy is
selected as a teacher who has a learner shocked after failing to respond
correctly—which, while a ruse involving an actor, drives Happy to some
“Kidd’s ebullience and generosity in unpacking the art and
practice of graphic design carry the novel,” Publishers Weekly noted. The author’s background includes designing
book jackets for the likes of David Sedaris, Donna Tartt and Michael Crichton.
The ORI committee began with more than 120 suggested books
before whittling down to five to let the college community vote, said Associate
Provost Rameen Mohammadi.
“The people who were passionate toward this book talked
about how interdisciplinary it was,” tying in strongly with graphic design and
psychology, he said. “We have policies on our campus, as do many other
colleges, driven by laws that were passed due to that experiment."
In addition, the book involves issues that may be of interest to college
students, such as getting that first job and trying to figure out how to behave
and interact in the professional world. “And above it all, for it to be an ORI
book, it has to be a good, compelling story,” Mohammadi said.
As with previous ORI selections, a number of programs will
tie into the selection and related themes spanning academics and the arts. The
college is currently working on having Kidd visit in mid-September to speak to
both general audiences and classes.
— Tim Nekritz M '05
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