The Red Book: Book summary and reviews of The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

The Red Book

A Novel

By Deborah Copaken Kogan

The Red Book
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2012,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

Every graduate of Harvard knows the drill: once every five years, they are asked to submit a short essay highlighting their latest career and personal accomplishments. These essays are then collected and published in a red-covered book, known as the Red Book, the mere sight of which causes most alumni to drop whatever it is they are doing to pore through the stories of personal triumphs and failures, tragedies marring otherwise successful lives, and humor and hope even in the midst of despair. How these graduates reply when the alumni office comes calling (including whether or not they reply or write their essays) reveals a great deal, but the actual human beings behind those 3-5 paragraphs come to light only during reunion weekend.

In The Red Book, her touching, provocative, whip-smart romp of a novel where The Big Chill meets Mary McCarthy's The Group, Kogan begins with the Red Book entries for a group of roommates from the class of 1989 who are all headed for their 20th reunion weekend just as the financial and professional walls are crumbling around them: a self-made, childless securities broker, recently pink-slipped, eager to conceive a baby before her fertility window closes; a blue-blood "artist" and former lesbian, married to a writer's-blocked male novelist, living disingenuously and beyond their means off a no-longer-viable trust fund; a former actress, the star of every school production, who has become the stay-at-home wife to a famous Hollywood director; the adopted war orphan, now a foreign correspondent clinging to her dying industry, whose war journalist husband has recently been killed.

These characters load up on the Red Book entries, each of which precedes the chapters in which old friends and acquaintances first appear, then bring their families, their histories, their successes, their failures, their questions, and their desires to a relationship-altering, score-settling, and completely unforgettable reunion weekend.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. What starts out feeling like a marketing-driven 'women's' book - the perfect read for a mani-pedi - turns out to be a smart, funny, engrossing, and action-packed meditation on women's lives, growing up, having and not having it all, class and the expectations that come with having gone to Harvard, love lost and found, infidelity and sexuality, and finally, loss and lying, especially to yourself." - Publishers Weekly

"Kogan has crafted a cast of characters who are relevant, authentic, and very human. A worthy, witty, and engrossing addition to the canon of reunion fiction occupied by Mary McCarthy's The Group, Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You, and Tim O'Brien's July, July." - Library Journal

"An unforgettable class reunion… Fans of Mary McCarthy's The Group will be drawn to these women (and the men who come in and out of their lives) as they struggle with their identities in their respective professional and personal fields." - BookPage

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Maggie P. (Mount Airy, MD)
The Red Book
The premise of the book was wonderful. Catch up with four Harvard graduates as they gather for their 20 year class reunion. I imagined reuniting with three of my good friends from college and catching up on the ensuing years. Would four people thrown together in college be able to gather together again? With that in mind, I eagerly started reading the book. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t make myself care for the characters. I found myself forgetting about it once I put it down. It’s just possible it was too close to chick-lit to completely capture my attention. I still believe the premise should work.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Elisabeth W. (Durham, NC)
The Red Book
I enjoyed The Red Book, but felt the author worked too hard to make it PC and created too many convenient situations. The group of four women featured in the story were a little hard to believe as a friend group - a privileged WASP, a short Jewish girl, a black girl who grew up in a CA commune and a Vietnamese girl adopted by an American soldier. I had not heard of Harvard's Red Book and enjoyed the author's use of mock Red Book entries to frame each character's past and future. I think this book is targeted to women 35 - 60 who enjoy books in upper middle class or academic settings.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dawn C. (Meridian, ID)
The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
Four roommates from Harvard all have very different lives and keep in touch by the Red Book that comes out every 5 years in which each alumni updates their life story in an autobiographical essay that makes up the class report. Much has changed for each of the girls since 1989 and everything becomes very real when they have their 20th class reunion.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jinny K. (Fremont, CA)
Satisfying Reunion Tale
I just love this kind of book and really looked forward to reading it; I was not disappointed.

The centerpiece of the story was a 20th reunion of four Harvard classmates, book-ended by synopses in their reunion chronicles called the Red Book.

The story was well told, the characters, with all their charms and flaws, stayed true throughout the story and there was enough bittersweetness to prevent the ending Red Book entries from being too good to be true.

Thoroughly engaging and enjoyable!

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Melissa Y. (Knoxville, TN)
The Red Book - I Wanted to Like It
I really wanted to like this book, however, it never really grabbed me. The characters came off as shallow and self-absorbed. Their Red Book entries were the best part of the book - seeing the way in which they viewed or, more precisely, wanted others to view their lives. The book was difficult for me to finish and I found myself picking up and putting down the book quite a bit. It was difficult to get through the entire book and if it hadn't been for this review I probably would not have finished it.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Rebecca J. (Knoxville, TN)
The red book
Every section starts out with some Harvard alumni's bios of what they had been doing the past five years since the last "Red Book" had come out. Then there is a reunion with some of the aforementioned students. Good concept but I wish the author had not included bios of characters who weren't in the book. I got a bit overwhelmed with all the names. Good story but a bit soapy. I did enjoy the epilogue which included entries in the Red Book that appeared 5 years after the novel ended.

...20 more reader reviews

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Deborah Copaken Kogan is the author of Between Here and April, a novel, and Shutterbabe, the bestselling memoir and soon-to-be TV series on the Sundance Channel about her years as a war photographer. Her photographs have been published in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, L'Express, Libération and Géo, among many other international newspapers and magazines. Her six years as a TV producer, first for ABC News, then Dateline NBC, garnered her an Emmy, and she shot a documentary on post-9/11 Pakistan for CNN. A monthly columnist for the Financial Times, she has also written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Elle, O: The Oprah Magazine, More, Slate, and Paris Match, among others. She has performed live on stage with The Moth, Afterbirth, and Smith Magazine's Six Word Memoir series. She lives in Harlem, NY, with her husband and three children. Visit her online at www.deborahcopakenkogan.com.

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