Lisa Birnbach | True Prep

True Prep is dutiful where The Official Preppy Handbook was cheeky and seems more interested in promoting the virtues of prep-dom than taking a satirical look at its foibles.

 

248 pages. Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. $19.95 (hardcover)
 
The Official Preppy Handbook was an unexpected bestseller in 1980, offering an insider’s tongue-in-cheek field guide to one of America’s many subcultures. I happened to be living in Boston, a.k.a. preppy central, at the time and this modest guide offered invaluable information about the strange people around me who thought lime green and pink were a good color combination and for whom “summer” was a verb.
 
Given that success, it’s sort of surprising that it took 30 years for an updated version to hit the shelves but now we have True Prep, written by Lisa Birnbach (who also wrote The Official Preppy Handbook) with Chip Kidd and with drawings by Randy Glass and photographs by Geoff Spear. It’s a more substantial book than the first, but that’s not entirely a good thing because most of the fun of the original got lost somewhere along the way. True Prep is dutiful where The Official Preppy Handbook was cheeky and seems more interested in promoting the virtues of prep-dom than taking a satirical look at its foibles. I suspect this has something to do with the changed life circumstances of the author: it’s one thing to make fun of your parents and peers as a young adult who takes their privileges for granted and quite another when you’re a mother focused on passing advantages on to your kids.
 
It’s not entire True Prep’s fault: times have changed and, after eight years of the presidency of George W., the whole concept of unearned privilege is a lot less funny than it may have seemed in 1980. The recent near-collapse of our financial system and the ever-widening gap between the extremely rich and everyone else in the U.S. also makes the antics of Muffy and Chip a lot less amusing these days. Another historical factor working against True Prep is how much the preppy clothing style has become mainstream: it was something of a novelty in 1980, but today it’s simply one style choice among many.
 
True Prep is lavishly illustrated with both photographs and graphic art, which are more fun than the prose; unfortunately many of the illustrations are small and crammed with detail, and the book’s layout has a crowded, ungainly feel as a result. In balance, laughs are few and far between in True Prep and the constant product placement quickly becomes dull. Of course I’m speaking as an outsider and for members of the tribe this book may be a hoot, but it doesn’t hold much appeal for people not to the manor born. | Sarah Boslaugh
 
Click here for more information and a brief preview of True Prep.

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