Brochures: Making a Strong Impression

By Jenny Vanderburgh Sullivan '91
Rockport Publications

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago wants to promote itself as a venue for corporate parties. The Pear Bureau Northwest wants grocery stores to use pears as a "signature display item." Wetland Studies Solutions, an environmental consulting firm, needs to give some sparkle to the unsexy subject of regulatory issues. Their answer: that communications workhorse, the brochure. A seasoned advertising editor and journalist specializing in the field of design, Jenny Sullivan has created a beautifully illustrated book of case studies in which she dissects eighty-five brochures that successfully met significant challenges. The book is first and foremost a practical collection of ideas for professional designers. It's full of real-world problems (low budgets, tight deadlines, mediocre available photography) and technical details. ("To convey an immediate feeling of earthiness . . . he selected Sundance Ultra White, an uncoated stock with a toothy, pebbled surface.") But, for the general student of our intensely visual culture, this book also provides an insider's look at how and why the world of promotion and persuasion looks the way it does.

The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau

Edited by Lewis Hyde
North Point Press (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Many of us who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s embraced Thoreau as a counterculture figure--part environmentalist, part mystic--an eccentric, benign hero who opted out of the materialist mainstream to live in a cabin and plant beans. In his excellent introduction to this collection of essays, Lewis Hyde shows us that such impressions only scratch the surface, missing the complexity and challenge of Thoreau's idealism.

Hyde, who is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, notes in his acknowledgments that the book grew out of a Thoreau seminar he taught at Kenyon, in which he and his students discovered that there really wasn't an easily available edition of the essays. He makes the distinction between essays--works that Thoreau deliberately crafted for publication--and the journal extracts or speeches that have sometimes been packaged as final written works, despite Thoreau's own preferences and methods of composition.

The book includes some of Thoreau's best-known works, like "Civil Disobedience" and "Walking." Rather than follow the usual custom of separating the nature
writing from the political essays, Hyde presents the thirteen essays chronologically, emphasizing the entwinement of Thoreau's politics and metaphysics. All of Thoreau's essays, Hyde argues, are in some sense "prophetic excursions" that reflect his "genius for perspective, for getting or imagining himself into situations where common things can be seen from uncommon angles."

After providing a clear and very useful introduction to the nature of the prophetic voice, Hyde eloquently discusses Thoreau's keen sense of the insufficiency of normal understanding. Thoreau would walk by moonlight in order to shuck "received conventions" and so recover a truer kind of sight. This sort of "experiment in the renewal of sensation" yields mainly a revelation of something ineffable and unattainable, "a fertile regret" that has value because "it indicates that some loss is felt and thus implies there was something to be lost." Hyde observes: "Wakefulness in Thoreau is not a perception of truth; it is a perception of ignorance."

Although politically Thoreau most impresses us as "the great refuser," whose passive resistance inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Hyde points out that even "Civil Disobedience" carries seeds of a more aggressive stance. That stance emerged in the anti-slavery essays, especially those defending John Brown. Hyde summarizes the main pre-Civil War slavery controversies and explains how a fanatic like Brown, whom we might well condemn as a terrorist today, appealed to Thoreau because of his "arch individualism," his "impatience with words and his drive toward action."

Hyde has done well to give us this book. His introduction whets our appetite to return to Thoreau, while providing a good philosophical point of entry. His extensive and very helpful annotations, moreover, enrich the reading of every essay.

--Dan Laskin

The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture

By David Bergman '72
Columbia University Press

In recent years, David Bergman has emerged as an important writer in the field of gay literature and gay culture generally. A scholar, essayist, anthologist, and poet, Bergman examines the field from two valuable perspectives--that of the dispassionate academic, placing gay writing in the context of American letters, and that of the engaged insider, providing an intimate look at the creators of a literature that has a complex history of its own.

An earlier book, Gaiety Transfigured: Self-Representation on Gay American Literature, is considered a key work on gay writing. This new book examines a brief but transforming moment in gay literature that Bergman calls the Violet Hour, a period--between the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the appearance of AIDS in the 1980s--"when a few gay men were creating their own culture in the wake of gay liberation." It was, he notes, a "darkly golden time that has been both demonized and romanticized."

Bergman focuses specifically on the Violet Quill, a short-lived literary club of seven gay writers who "used their own concerns to articulate many of the most important stories gay men told themselves." In addition to well-known authors like Edmund White (A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony) and Andrew Holleran (Dancer from the Dance, Nights in Aruba), the group included Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Felice Picano, and George Whitmore. Of the seven, Cox, Ferro, Grumley, and Whitmore all died of AIDS complications between 1988 and 1990.

In addition to the inherent literary merit of their work, Bergman sees these writers as significant because they sought to create art free of social or psychological requirements; they rejected the notion that their fiction had to explain gay culture or help gay readers "improve" their lives. "They didn't intend to defend homosexuality," Bergman writes, "so much as to capture the essence to be derived from their gay experience."

The Violet Hour provides detailed textual analyses enriched by both biographical information and social history. The book examines the earlier literary trends out of which the Violet Quill grew. It discusses the importance of migration in gay literary life--from home to the city (specifically New York), from mainstream to bohemia, from America to Europe. It also looks at the role of race in gay fiction, the way the gay community on Fire Island figures in literature, and depictions of love and sex. A final chapter takes up the subject of AIDS. Why write, in the face of AIDS? Why read about AIDS? What characterizes the literature of AIDS?

"To ignore the Violet Quill," Bergman writes, "is to construct a history of twentieth-century American culture with a floor missing." The Violet Hour sets this important floor solidly in place.

Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good

By Paul Newman '49 and A.E. Hotchner

Paul Newman? "Today there's an entire generation that knows Paul more for popcorn than for movies," notes this account of how the blue-eyed actor and his friend "Hotch" Hotchner created the food conglomerate Newman's Own and along with it a supremely successful model for philanthropy. The book's subtitle, "The Madcap Business Adventure by the Truly Oddest Couple," signals the fun and irreverence to be found in the telling. But although the coauthors never take themselves too seriously, their tale is an inspirational one. There's a lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs: Although Newman's celebrity status clearly helped, the commercial success of his homemade salad dressing (and the dozens of other products that followed) is rooted in a willingness to be guided by intuition and imagination rather than accepted business wisdom. More important is the lesson in values: Newman's Own is most admired for the fact that profits have gone to charities, most notably the actor's Hole in the Wall Gang camps for children with serious illnesses. The book, which details Newman's tireless personal involvement in creating the camps, will be especially appreciated by Kenyon readers, who will also find an appearance by current board of trustees chairman David Horvitz. Horvitz played an important role in establishing the Boggy Creek Gang Camp in Florida.

The Emptiness of Our Hands: A Lent Lived on the Streets

By Phyllis Cole-Dai and James Murray '99

This book is a reminder that homelessness, a problem that most of us come to know only through media accounts and policy debates, is in essence a matter of individual lives. Cole-Dai and Murray voluntarily embraced homelessness on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, during the period of Lent and Holy Week in 1999, not as liberal voyeurs but to "practice compassion," to "be as present as possible to everyone we met." They spent much of their time outdoors, scavenging for food, building makeshift camps, and getting to know those who had no choice. Assembled from notes, their book looks both inward and outward, reflecting on lives of comfort as well as lives in need. It is enriched by a set of remarkable photographs that Murray took, using crude pinhole cameras that he created from boxes or cans found in Dumpsters.

Back to Top