THE RED BOOK by Deborah Copaken Kogan


From the moment I learned about The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan, I knew I wanted to read it. The Red Book is an alumni report that Harvard alums receive every five years in advance of their college reunions. Classmates submit updates on what they have been up to for the previous 5 years. Some submit long reports of their successes and accomplishments, while others just let Harvard print their last known address and leave it at that. (I have a friend who calls it absolutely addictive, compulsive reading.) Kogan’s The Red Book is about four friends from Harvard ’89 who are attending their 20th reunion, and it opens with their four submissions.

The rest of the book is about their 20th reunion weekend in early June, 2009. I found The Red Book to be totally engrossing and a very satisfying read. Kogan writes with such insight about modern parenthood and relationships, as well as work-life balance and friendships. I was surprised to see a wide range of review of The Red Book on Amazon – some people deem it to be about “white people problems”, which is totally fair. But I enjoyed reading about those white people problems.

Kogan is a really good writer, which shows through on every page. I loved her observations, her sympathy for her characters, even when they were acting irrationally or entitled. Loved this sentence: “Bucky, it saddens her to realize, has become any one of those besuited shadows one sees on the LIRR platform, waiting with equal indifference for both train and death.” Also this one about the meeting of the ’89 alums and some students:

The two groups stand face-to-face, mirror images of one another distorted by a gulf of two decades, each feeling superior to their time-warped counterpart for reasons only the older group can fathom. The current students see the pasty alumni and think poor, sad, balding sacks, trying to relive their long-gone youth. The alumni – who know exactly what the young’uns are thinking, thank you very much, giving them the ironic advantage in this hall of mirrors standoff – see the current students both as they appear today and as they will one day become, as if witnessing it all in stop-motion flash forward: the disappointments, the broken vows, the friends and family laid to rest; the loves lost, the pounds gained, the compromises and the sad surprises and the football-size lemons swallowed whole.

Yes, the book is elitist, and perhaps the characters’ problems aren’t really that relatable by much of the world beyond the Ivy League, Brooklyn and LA. But I loved reading this book – it got me through some long, sleepless nights with a newborn and I always picked it up eagerly. There are a few plot twists that are a bit far-fetched (like the inevitable pregnancy resulting from a one-night stand), but they didn’t bother me too much.

I read Kogan’s other novel – Between Here and April – and I didn’t love it. In my opinion, The Red Book is a big improvement and shows her growth as a writer.  Like I said in my last review, if the subject matter appeals to you, I highly recommend The Red Book. If it sounds like the characters and Harvard name-dropping will irritate you, then take a pass.

7 Comments

  • June 18, 2012 - 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Oooh, this sounds good and juicy!!

  • June 18, 2012 - 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I read this one over the long weekend of my husband’s grandmother’s funeral. I, too, found it engrossing and intriguing. I’m glad to know her work is improving. I won’t seek out her earlier books, but I will be curious to see what she writes next.

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  • April 1, 2013 - 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Just finished it! I didn’t like it as much as you did (though I certainly liked it more than the same author’s previous novel). It was a little too soap opera-esque for me, and I thought the several endless soliloquies sprinkled throughout the book were inexcusable. Those soliloquies, along with a few other moments like when Clover and Bucky were dialoguing via Blackberry before the memorial service, seemed to me like the clumsy narrative crutches of a much less experienced writer than Kogan is. That said, it was definitely a page-turner, and some of the characters were truly engrossing, especially the more likable ones.

    • gayle
      April 1, 2013 - 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, in hindsight it doesn’t hold up as a particularly memorable read. I think it was enjoyable but not great.

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