Author: Jesse Reklaw
Publisher: Microcosm Publishing
Genre: Found Art
Retail Price: 4.00
Buy on Amazon.com link
Let me quote directly from the editor to describe this book: “One night while rooting through the recycling bin for magazines, I found all the confidential Ph.D. applicant files for the biology department at an Ivy League university from the years 1965-1975. Stapled to many of the yellowed documents were photographs of the prospective students. They were treasures!”
Each page of this small pocket book contains a head shot, probably a high school yearbook photo, beneath which is a line judging the applicant. The dated look of the photos juxtoposed by the quotes (often personal in nature) are fascinating. Obviously these young kids were interviewed in person, or perhaps by a panel, and who knows what the process entailed or what they were asked. You only get a glimmer of these episodes by a short excerpt from the confidential reviews provided by the editor, but that tiny slice tells volumes of the applicants, the interviewers, and an Ivy League culture from pre-PC times.
For instance: A headshot of a serious-looking Asian woman. Her interviewer summed her up as having a “certain lack of adventurousness,” which is a strange thing to say while figuring out the merits of a biology Ph.D. applicant. A dorky looking kid with a look of consternation is denoted, sadly, as “hardly the life-of-the-party type!” Alarmingly, two female candidates receive harsh and unfair treatment: “not as physically attractive as some” and “Weakness: she is a female and an attractive, modest one so is bound to marry.” There are also disparaging remarks about the political activities (perceived or real) of some of the male applicants with mussier hair or beards (damn hippies).
This is such a simply constructed book, and yet it really makes you think. A quick read-through is funny and voyeuristic, and you can laugh at the funny dweebs and the harsh judgments passed upon them. But there’s something more to it here: there’s the disturbing and uneasy snap judgments of these strangers’ characters, but there’s also our own reactions as we match these quick quotes (most without context) to our own snap judgments and find congruence. Yes, he could be “rather tense.” And I bet she is “self-deprecating.” This is a book about shallowness, theirs and ours, and in that, this book finds something very deep.
Bottom Line: Wonderful little treasure of found art that resonates.