Archive for August 21st, 2008

The Learners

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

By Chip Kidd

The Short Take:

If you like Mad Men, look for this book now. This crisply written novel builds upon advertising circa 1961, but also incorporates perplexing questions about the responsibilities of advertising – and psychological researchers.


Chip Kidd is already a noted graphic designer: his groundbreaking work in book design is particularly well known, though strangely others are credited for the design of this book. Go figure.

Kidd’s familiarity with the ad world glows throughout this book, which gives it special appeal to people like me who are in the biz. His little “side lessons” in advertising thinking should be of interest to everyone, however. With thousands of ad exposures on any given day, aren’t we all advertising experts of some sort or the other?

Advertising plays only one role in this engrossing story, which also focuses on the Milgram experiments and the repercussions on its subjects. Main character (and budding designer) Happy not only creates the ad that attracts people to participate in this disturbing study, he finds that his whole life becomes wrapped up in the results.

While that might sound forbiddingly dark – and there certainly is a degree of darkness to this novel – the animated portrayal of the characters in a small ad agency, along with a certain major potato chip client, provide just the right counterbalance.

In fact, I like this one so much I’m going to order Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys right now.

Want Some Plot?

New college grad Happy wants to start his career at the same place as his favorite college professor. And he does. The small family-owned agency in New Haven, Connecticut, relies heavily on the Krinkle Kutt snack food account, represented in detailed cartoon advertisements by hero chip, Krinkle Karl.

Happy reconnects with the would-be love of his life, and learns the challenges of living in a college town as well as the gothic ins-and-out so his new company.

The turning point comes when Happy creates an ad for a study about learning and memory for Yale University (a real and controversial experiment, by the way). Ultimately this ad leads to destruction in more ways than one. But to tell you more would be to ruin the book.

In a parallel plot line, the Krinkle Kutt a sales manager joins the usual marketing manager in meetings with an agency. Disaster lurks on the horizon.

Snappy character portrayals, a fast-moving plot, and delightful language make this short book seem even shorter.


Fear Not Faulkner

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Somehow my education did not include the usual required reading of many respected writers. In fact, I only recall having to read The Scarlet Letter and some Shakespearean plays. Very sad.

So, I tackle one of those missed books every once in awhile. The latest was William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

I kept hearing how hard Faulkner was from everybody — including people I knew were well educated and bright. So I was very nervous.


Basically the book was a beautifully written melodrama unveiled in mystery form. It wasn’t hard at all. Honest. That said, you can’t sit down and read it in five minute snatches. Shoot, it takes longer than that just to finish some of Faulkner’s sentences. But the reading wasn’t hard. In fact, it was pleasurable.

Faulkner (at least in this novel) tends to reveal part of something and wait several paragraphs, or even pages, to reveal the rest of that something. That’s why it’s best to read for extended periods at a time. Otherwise you may not get the whole thought or meaning.

I found this created a level of tension beyond with events in the book. It added drama just to the process of reading.

There will be more Faulkner in my future. And no more fear. Now I’m ready to tackle James Joyce!


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