Ok, watch this clip, and if you don’t LOL at the exact part you’re supposed to LOL just stop reading now.
This video introduces the book The Mirth of College, written by Hamilton student Amy Barkham and published March 2011. It’s a satirical novel based on Amy’s experience On The Hill, told through the eyes of a creative writing professor privy to her student’s thoughts.
We caught up with Amy to verify that a student #inthecac can indeed have the self-discipline to write an entire novel #inthecac, while the rest of us feel daunted by the prospect of having to sign the attendance sheet. #stillskeptical
The ‘Cac: What made you decide to write a book about Hamilton?
AB: In my opinion, it’s a book about a typical liberal-arts college. I just happen to have attended Hamilton so naturally most of the material came from my experiences there. The Mirth of College was initially a short story. I was at this party where I saw the effects of cocaine on someone and decided to write something like that but slightly more entertaining, say, a character who tripped on acid all the time. So began the story about Ben, which then turned into several other stories based on what I saw, what I did, what I felt. The novel’s first title was Collegiate Misconceptions but that was too heavy.
The ‘Cac: What was the literal process of writing your book like, how did you publish it?
AB: I start every novel with the assumption that it will be good if I know the subject very well; if it’s pretense, the reader will not relate to it at all. In the case of The Mirth of College, it was about discovering college as best as I could and immortalizing that period of my life. Writing the novel was an amazing process. Hamilton is a gorgeous campus during the summer – like a little Eden on a hill. But come winter, the weather is simply unbearable. Chances are, if you’re like me, you don’t feel like going to Bundy for a party at night when it’s 10 degrees outside, so you stay in your room and you write. That’s a whole winter of writing. I had the first draft of The Mirth of College ready by the end of my sophomore year. I tried getting it published with the help of people I knew, but I thought that was a little like cheating. Besides, I realized I was just a sophomore and didn’t know enough. So I had a go at it for another year and it turned out to be better. My semester abroad actually inspired one of the stories in there.
Getting the novel published was a mixture of luck and a little ambition. I wanted this new international publishing house to publish me because they just started expanding their business in the US and frankly, I thought the book was good enough and ready for publication. Instead of sending the manuscript to the main address where perhaps only the editorial assistant would look at it, I figured out the names of the editors themselves. I added them on Facebook, saw their email address on their profile, wrote them a letter with my manuscript attached. They contacted me a week later.
Also, I’ve always wanted to publish a book by age 30. I don’t know why. I just always pictured it in my mind.
The ‘Cac: Do you think that there is a strong history of representing small liberal arts schools in literature?
AB: There’s certainly the era of the Brat Pack with the likes of Donna Tart and Bret Easton Ellis who I think is more famous for American Psycho than Rules of Attraction (set up in lib-arts colleges) though both are equally phenomenal. As far as a “strong history”, I don’t know. There are many good books about college in general, and the most recent novel I can think of is “The Lie” by Chad Kultgen, which is not set-up in a liberal arts college. There’s also the fratire genre. But fratire focuses exclusively on the Greek life, which is more prevalent in big universities than in liberal-arts colleges, where you get a medley of every social group, unless you’re too exclusive with your clique to notice it.
The ‘Cac: What is the prevailing message of your novel, what do you ultimately want to say about our generation?
AB: I don’t know what to say about our generation without enduring the risk of sounding like a complete douche. This is a generation with a large and diverse community that goes beyond the USA and I don’t want to encapsulate all of us in one or two sentences. I guess my book is trying to figure out where we stand in relation to other generations. Maybe with a combination of other novels of this time, we can come up with some answers.
The ‘Cac: Do you think that it is difficult to achieve a level of honesty in human interaction at a school like Hamilton?
AB: I think a high level of honesty can only be achieved if you meet a person that you simply adore because it’s just natural and mutual. You get along, you don’t judge them and they don’t judge you: that may be a close group of friends or that could be a professor, or your sports team, or members of your sorority. I don’t know if this answers your question but what I’m saying is we each got a lot of package of our own so we shouldn’t judge anyone unless they’ve committed murder or have gone to become millionaires by graduation time. But this happens, we judge and so yes, in retrospect, I guess it’s quite difficult. Does this answer the question?
The ‘Cac: Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
AB: The two most difficult characters to create were Fiona and Ben. They’re the least likeable but in my opinion, the most intriguing. I’m really embarrassed when I try to analyze my own book like that, I’m okay at writing the thing, but awful when I have to think about what I like or dislike about it.
The ‘Cac: What authors most inspire you?
AB: Currently, Ernest Hemingway. Then there is – in no particular order – Charles Baudelaire, Antoine de St-Exupery, Bret Easton Ellis, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Francis Cabrel, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler (songwriters are writers too!), Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, JD Salinger, Amadou Ampathé Ba, Paul Zindel, Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.
The ‘Cac: Where is your favorite place to write?
AB: Wherever there’s a cup of strong coffee and no one around.