‘The Learners’ Named Next Book for Campuswide Oswego Reading Initiative

OSWEGO — “The Learners,” Chip Kidd’s mix of office comedy and self-discovery novel, will be the Oswego Reading Initiative selection for summer 2010 reading by the SUNY Oswego campus community.

The story follows a recent college graduate, nicknamed Happy, as he starts 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 University 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 soul-searching.

“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 college’s Oswego Reading Initiative 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 campus programs in 2010-11 will tie into the selection and related themes spanning academics and the arts.