Friday, September 17, 2010

Top Ten Reasons True Prep is Unreadable: A Review

My personal experience so far is that rather than being simply good or bad, Lisa Birnbach's True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World seems unreadable. I can't wait to put it down, and have a hard time picking it up.

(And I really did not want to write this piece, because it seems as dark as I am accusing the book of being. The topic of Prep should be fun and light, eschewing a certain self-seriousness and snarkiness. Nevertheless, because many have asked, and with all appropriate trepidation and apologies...)

Here are the top ten reasons why True Prep is unreadable:

1) The first person plural: I don't know any book that can survive with a first person plural narrative. Writing from the "We" perspective generates reactance. It also forgoes the humor possible in the more anthropological "they" from The Official Preppy Handbook.

2) Too many discordant moments: At least every other page, I am faced with items or people that are not Preppy. If I had to categorize, I would say that they main emphasis is on Yuppie not Preppy. To me, little of the book felt familiar.

3) This is a book about people I don't like and places I don't like, and probably for people I don't like. I don't want to spend time in this world.

4) The Official Preppy Handbook is better today than True Prep. Lisa Birnbach and friends did such a good job on creating a timeless work that it endures today.

5) Too often overly broad: Facebook? Texting? The TV series Twenty-Four? Blockbuster Video? The book focuses on culture-wide trends without much effort to put a unique Preppy context on them.

6) Too often overly narrow: The passion in this book seems to be on the travails of life in well-off New York City (plastic surgery, addictions, trials, rehab, divorce and "daddy's new girlfriend," death).

7) Not funny: Almost all attempts at humor fall flat.

8) Unattractive layout: Preppy is, in part, an aesthetic, that I do not believe this book embodies. (Photos were always the weak spot of TOPH as well. Now there are more of them.)

9) Organization seems non-existent: I don't know how this book was supposed to be organized.

10) Smarmy product placements: This book has the unfortunate combination of strongly advocating specific pricey items as the primary path to prep-dom while working closely with specific companies (weirdly disclosed at best) shilling these products. (One seldom pays these days to be the target of so much selling.)

Take a look at The Prep Pantheon's entry on this issue.

There are worse ways of spending money than buying this book. And I certainly enjoyed the first enough to pay this tribute thirty years later. Nevertheless, my dominant thought is that I believe there will not be a third Prep book from Ms. Birnbach.


Susan C said...

About what I expected. I'm especially struck by your item #3 which is exactly the way I feel. I'm looking forward to see how many of your readers agree with you.

Kari said...

I had so looked forward to the publication of True Prep because I felt that, while TOPH is timeless, there were a some things that needed updating. What a disappointment. I'm half way through and it's making me feel slightly ill.

lagunie said...

Right on!

James said...

Almost sounds like one of the Housewives shows.No I don't watch them, but God help me my wife does. I guess it's the train wreck thing. Thank you for the review.I so enjoy your directness on all matters.

Main Line Sportsman said...

What can you expect from a book targeted almost exclusively at posers and pretenders...I have less than no interest in the book and would not buy it unless I saw it at a Church Fair Flea Market book stall for a quarter.
Your analysis does ring very true!

tintarosa said...

Your critique of True Prep really nailed it. I too, can barely look at it. Every time I pick it up, I find something that I don't agree with or am completely uninterested in. So sad...

Elle said...

Terrible book, no comparison to the first. Expecting this much I put myself at the top of the wait list at the Library. I had it in my hands the day it was released and returned it the next after having read it cover to cover - very disappointed. I also felt as though there was very little "Truth" to this edition of "Prep". Perhaps it was a 21st century homage to all the aspiring preppies who seem to think it's a look vs. a lifestyle? At least my explanation for why all the hideous nonsensical product endorsement.

Marie said...

I so agree with your analysis. During the 1980s, while in London, I purchased The Official Sloane Ranger Book and found it hilarious. The same can not be said for the sequel-Cooler, Faster, More Expensive:The Return of the Sloane Ranger. Some things are not meant to be updated or tweeked.

Carole said...

I saw an interview w/ Ms. Birnbach and I was surprised by her truculence and defensive attitude. Perhaps she was aware that this book would not be well received.

Ryan P. said...

First of all, I can't say that I am surprised. For months, small portions or sneak-peeks have been issued by the publisher and with every one, I wanted to read True Prep less. My upbringing of frugality and thriftiness tells me: Spend the 15 or so dollars somewhere else!

Curt McAdams said...

I had hoped to enjoy a revisiting of the first book, only written for those of us that are now 30 years older than our first readings of TOPH. Maybe something about how dressing preppy affects one through their 20s, 30, 40s.

Your review is pretty much right on, I think. Though some might call me a poser, living in rural Ohio, I found True Prep to be a bit mean spirited and dark. Instead of being optimistic, it was cynical.

Thanks for the review; I only wish I'd had a chance to read it before my purchase. :)

Royar said...

I couldn't agree more! It was terrible and I found myself running back to TOPH just to remember what being a prep was all about. I could barely finish it.

lottie said...

I totally agree; and, sadly, it's exactly what I expected.


Kitten vanderKellen said...

Well Muffy, you have once again summed up all that I couldn't find the right words for! Thank you for linking to my post. I now feel ten feet tall! xo

Tammy B said...

Thanks for the review. I could not wait to get off work on September 7 so that I could rush to Barnes & Noble to purchase my copy of True Prep. I am still trying to read it. Ten days and I am not even halfway finished. I had anticipated it to be geared to those of us who have always been preppy. Like someone else commented, it is targeted to posers and pretenders. (I hope that I'm not a poser since I'm from Alabama, but that's how I was raised to dress).

GOPinsider said...

Completely agree with the comments. I purchased the book on the first day it came out and were it not for the fact that I like having the complete set of things, I would consider returning it to the store. Way too much product placement including products that are not prep (Cole Haan loafers?) and the list of prep pantheon members is like every celebrity of the past 30-years who went to a private high school whether they are actually preppy or not.

Very disappointing.

Genuine Lustre said...

Hello Curt, from a fellow Ohio poser.

So glad you used the word "smarmy." It's exactly the word that came to mind before I got to page 30. Too many gratuitous references to alternative lifestyles, drug use, etc. Not funny at all. And the endless celebrity lists...

Wharf Rat said...

Seems like we are almost 100% in agreement.

TP is #6 on NYT best seller list, this week. Probably because of people like us, who were expecting more, and ended up being disappointed.

As Lisa looks at Prep, surely she knows better than this.

It would seem that most who prize the prep life style would agree with Da Vinci that; "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

When we stray too far from that concept, it would seem that we get lost in a wilderness, that should be avoidable. We don't aspire to be something that we aren't, we just prize the simplicity of a particular style of clothing. Understated elegance speaks for itself. Not a complicated concept.

That is why a blog of this quality, lets like minded devotees of the genre assure each other that we still understand the concept.

dpf said...

Although Lisa Birnbach always managed to take full credit for The Preppy Handbook but the actual book was based on the input and insights of dozens of contributors....when left to her own talents True Prep is the result: the media spin and product tie-ins, the branding and endless PR and marketing. The perfect book for our times.

Mrs. G said...

I so agree with your analysis.

ADG said...

I still have my copy of The Preppy Handbook that I bought in 1980. I’ve read it cover to cover so many times by now that I couldn’t begin to guess the number. But I always read it in fits and starts, cumulatively, ultimately, in its entirety but never straight-thru.

Slightly sardonic—nuanced satire…that’s what the first book was and if I view this one through the same lens, I can’t possibly find this much fault with it. Come on…it’s been thirty years since the first tongue-in-cheek self caricature hit the bookstores.

If you ever viewed The Preppy Handbook as an unimpeachable go-to playbook for how to “be”, then that was your first mistake. It was and is a fun book…nothing more-nothing less. It seems to me that manifestation of your disappointment in True Prep is really a reflection of taking satire and wit waaaaay too seriously.

Layout and graphics, product pimping, people and places you don’t like…it’s all good.And if the attenuated tribe of genuine Preps are really this rattled, they wouldn't let the world know that they give a damn about this book, much less the first one.

ADG said...

Well said!

Laguna Beach Trad said...

Good list.

This a book about people I don't like and places I don't like, and probably for people I don't like. I don't want to spend time in this world.

Well said. I just leafed through a copy and that is all I could tolerate. I disliked the first version and I dislike this one.

Whilst the original may have been written with satirical intentions and read by aspiring middle-class preps, True Prep, I think, is written by the Noo Yawk hipster crowd for the Noo Yawk hipster crowd. Prep is the latest sartorial fad for these creatures, hence the need for the book.

I am turned off by the kind of people behind True Prep as much as I am by the suburban lacrosse-moms and list-makers who turn up their snub all-American nose at chaps and chapettes who don't live up to their plastic middle-class standards.

None of this is really about making petty lists for readers to follow or highlighting various products and brands, or deciding who/what is or who/what isn't prep. It is about understanding, attitude, and perspective.

These creatures might look the part, but the essence is missing. They are hollow inside.

Nick Jenkins said...

Absolutely agree with your Review. True Prep needed a good editor and better graphic design throughout. The dust jacket is simply awful.

Percy said...

A consensus is emerging. Almost unreadable, yes. I'm making my way through the book a page or two at a time. Clearly Jonathan Roberts, Mason Wiley, and Carol McD. Wallace had far more to do with authoring TOPH than I ever realized.

I do wonder how anyone can write a book called True Prep and make no mention of J. Press, or at least none that I've found. Ralph Lauren, Vineyard Vines, and J. Crew are certainly featured prominently.

Summer Wind said...

I agree with your every word. Great Post

JMW said...

It's funny that you should write this, because last night I was looking through my copy of True Prep and decided to pull out the TOPH from the shelf to compare. TOPH is so much better. I agree, True Prep is more about Yuppies. And, even though there seems to be an attempt to make readers feel that prepdom is a private club, this version of the book tries very hard to be all inclusive. It's as if politcal correctness has intervened to a certain extent. And even though there is a mention of how no good preppy would be caught dead on a reality TV show, this book seems to be speaking to that generation of posers. Thumbs down to True Prep.

Bobby said...

Accurate review. 'True Prep' officially marks the end of [faux] prep in the mainstream. It goes to show how unimaginative designers became catering to Generation Y and their parents ‘wealth’ spiking in 2000 and 2007. Talk about a lost decade of substance and creativity. Despite current retailers’ ensembles of seasoned goods (i.e. J. Crew) I’m sure they will start pushing ‘1990’s grunge’ trends (God help us) as soon as the economy starts to see substantial growth.

michigan said...

Dear Muffy & All,

Page 11 of TOPH is IMO the key difference between the two books. In a word inclusion. Page 11 invites everyone to join the club and the rest of TOPH tells you what "the club" is. It is very clear that "the club is the club" no exceptions. But anyone may join if they wish. However, in TP, you are either in or you are out of the club. And a lot of money is the only requirement to be in.

I guess there was a sense of hope in TOPH missing in TP. When you think about it, it was very much an invitation, saying, come on and join in, we're about living a high quality life. TP seems to be saying, isn't our lifestyle something to be envied. We think so.

I think The Daily Prep has the same spirit as TOPH. Muffy seems to be saying. I want to share all the wonderful things I know with all of you. And so I think... Hey good idea Muffy I will use boat tote bags instead of grocery bags. And now I do. And it is better. Thank you Muffy!

Bumby Scott said...

Muffy, I whole heartily agree with you on point #3. Thank you for taking one for the team.


Lizzy Loves Lilly said...

Your review is spot on!
I am so disappointed in all of the so-called drooling "great" reviews of TP and the tie-in affairs with establishments that I had at one time held in such high regard.
I have not yet finished reading TP as I too am having a hard time forcing myself to pick it up. I enjoy self-depricating satire, but there is nothing I have read so far that makes me want to read on. I am reading it out of morbid curiosity similar to viewing a bad movie that you watch until the end hoping that there must be some redeeming moment at the end.
TP is a politically correct take on a classic way of life that can never be "updated."

j.mosby said...


I prefer your insight on Prepdom than any Birnbach book! Keep up the excellent blog!

Jeanne said...

Ok..I am going to stop here, I could comment on your post all day! I have not read The Daily Prep yet. I will have to see if I can pick it up in London somewhere.

I can just imagine what this book is all about and no thank you to that one.

Do you remember the expression 'reggie'? It was another we used in our hometown growing up for a 'preppy'. I am seriously off to do some work. I promised myself I would not look at my blog...just yet.

Thanks for the 'time out'...I so enjoyed it!

You might find something you like at my other blog too....Collage of Life.

Jeanne :)

Ian from Downunder said...

Greetings from Melbourne!
Just discovered your blog site thanks to Man of the 50s (James). What an excellent review - honest, to the point, helpful without getting personal. My copy of TP is on order from the States but I shan't cancel it as it will be a companion to the OPHB, however, I am not as enthusiastic about receiving it now.
I agreed with your post on jeans. It seems that denim is now the default fabric for the sartorially challenged. They're great if you're a cowboy, washing the car or a rodeo rider but...
All the best, Ian. said...

It's nice to hear that I wasn't the only person who didn't like the book. (I reviewed it here: It's especially nice to hear you wondered who organized the book as well. As much good press it had going for it pre-release, you'd think it would at least be organized in a logical manner as opposed to a stream of random thoughts and anecdotes. .

Percy said...

Now that I've read more of the book, I see that one of the things that make it so unpleasant (in addition to the difficult typeface, rampant product placement, and mystifying sequence) is its lurid fascination with the unseemly: drug and alcohol rehab, extra-marital affairs, prison time, plastic surgery, sex addiction, the sad tales of Sunny von Bulow and Brooke Astor, and not a mere paragraph but two entire pages on interment at one's alma mater.

I'd much rather read about outdoorsy people with traditional New England wardrobes who like nothing better than to spend an afternoon sailing, golfing, or horseback riding and then sit down to a gin and tonic with friends and family.

R said...

Wharf Rat said, "It would seem that most who prize the prep life style would agree with Da Vinci that; "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

When we stray too far from that concept, it would seem that we get lost in a wilderness, that should be avoidable. We don't aspire to be something that we aren't, we just prize the simplicity of a particular style of clothing. Understated elegance speaks for itself. Not a complicated concept."

I agree with this, so why do others refer to someone else as a poser if they believe this and try to live it? I'm just beginning to learn about style and found myself naturally leaning towards the classic/preppy look. At 37 years old, I know it seems a tad late to finally be "finding" myself, but I am at that point in my life now because I was not raised with a "style" of life, if you will. As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize that the way I live my life coincides with the preppy/classic lifestyle, so I don't see that as being a poser. I guess I'm just trying to understand how the word poser is being used, and other comments that I've read elsewhere referring to "outsiders" not having entrance into the preppy world. It leaves the impression that one has to be born into that life in order to be considered a "true prep", whatever that means, regardless of whether or not their lifestyle/thinking/attitude is reflective of the prep values that they hold dear.

Elle said, "Perhaps it was a 21st century homage to all the aspiring preppies who seem to think it's a look vs. a lifestyle?" I agree that who you are should be connected to your lifestyle, and one should not just be trying to "look" like something they're not. A person may not have gone to a prep college, etc., but if the classic/prep style fits with their personality/lifestyle, I don't see how they would be considered a "poser" simply because they do not have all the boxes checked off on the "what makes a preppy" list. What am I missing?

I just e-mailed Mrs. Aldrich today asking for her advice before reading some of the blogs/comments here, and elsewhere, and am now hoping that I am not brushed aside as a poser. I hope instead that I'm viewed as someone who is sincere in wanting to understand and learn more about classic/preppy/enduring style, and the values that go with a timeless lifestyle, which is what I have realized I instinctively gravitate towards, even though it was not something I was born into and taught.

Bumby Scott said...

@R. I think that Muffy is correct in her assessment of your motives. To me it sounds as if you are coming to the table with a good and pure heart.
I think that a good many people are confused by terms.
WASP vs Preppy.
Being a old family (monied) WASP is by definition exclusive, whereas, being a Preppie is open and non exclusive. Speaking as a WASP as well as a Preppie, Welcome. Be yourself and let that inner Preppy out.
Good luck.

Pink One said...

Thank you, Muffy and Scott. I see what you mean. I've read through the past posts, up to this one, and understand better what is being said. I appreciate your welcoming attitude and openness.

Casey said...

I couldn't agree more with your impression of the book. I've tried to read it and always seem to put it back down again with a bad taste in my mouth.

Emma said...

I have been picking through your archives and found this post. I took such delight in the original, but True Prep is so focused on consumption and appearances! I was raised a very particular way by my family in New England and New York, preppy without knowing it, and laughed as I found pieces of my life and family described in TOPH. The values that make preppy meaningful aren't found in True Prep - they've been replaced with superficiality.

Jack Stub said...

I'm so pleased to find your post on this terrible book. It's unreadable and found no place in the shelves of my library. The original, my heavily-thumbed copy, is timeless and still holds up perfectly, like the values so many of us were born with. The new, "updated" version is watery, weak and tries to appease to the changed demographic of America. Adapting to changing times does not mean dilution of the message. It was a shameful book, and it's good to see so many feel the same way. Thank you for your blog, it's one of the few online that isn't a pastiche of what it means to be this way. Cheers!

Lily said...

Reading "True Prep" now and finding its satirical tone to be somewhat enjoyable but not entirely spot on. Luckily I checked a copy out of the local library before purchasing, on to the next!

Anonymous said...

This post is late in the game, and I almost posted it as a comment on your latest post, but it does not relate to that.

I found this YouTube video while searching for G&T recipes. I think this is a great argument against True Prep. The modelling session, the use of some random model to "play" preppy, etc., along with that Chip Kidd character annoys me to no end.

Anonymous said...

I must say, the book "True Prep" does not even come close to representing prep ideals. One has to wonder if the author ever had the insight in the first place, or if her life so grossly unravelled that she lost touch with the concept of prep.

The author comes across as deeply desturbed and defensive. Even the topics included in the book (drugs, affairs, etc.) are discussed in a way that is indicative of a person who is missing the point entirely. The author appears to have had a very rough life, and is angry about it.

This book is unreadable. I agree with everyone! The first 3 pages are unbareable. The rest of the book even worse. The author has missed the "prep" boat and purchased a ticked on the "low class, sensationalistic trash" boat.

Preps haven't gone anywhere, nor are they in any way, shape or form similar to the types described in this book. Preps will always be here - waiting and working quietly within their own club. The world has changed - but the philosophy that defines preps has not.

Yes, the wealthy that have new money and flash it around are more visable. But, being prep isn't about making a scene. It's about discretion. Something that the author of True Prep obviously does not have. This woman is OBVIOUSLY NOT prep. She is a poser.

Hardey Leone said...

I have this book. I hate it so much.

I have gone off prep forever.
Silly rules for silly people.

I will stick to good manners, simplicity and classic style.