Caroline is determined to harness magic in her life, in whatever form it may take. The first kind of magic she knew she wanted could only be found within the castle walls of Cambridge University. The recent graduate became a social media sensation on Instagram while chronicling her picturesque yet very real life at her dream college. Each post contains a charming, anecdotal (300 words or so) story along with an aesthetically pleasing photograph. Each post also generally garners over ten thousand likes and hundreds of comments. Caroline has a major fan club. Caroline also has a memoir coming out in 2017. GAL discusses both.
Photography by: Laurel Golio
GAL: What was the name of the first book you loved which has turned you into a life long reader?
CC: Gosh, you know, I’m going to have to say Harry Potter. I wish it were something more original or sort of obscure. You can’t study art history for three years without it being drilled into you that the more obscure your favorite artistic whatever is, the more valid and legitimate your choice. But no. I’m going for the Matisse of children’s books! I fell in love with Harry Potter. I fell in love with both reading and the hope that reading can bring to a child whose life is totally un-extraordinary. I grew up in the suburbs where, you know, a boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs whose life was touched by magic, was all I wanted to be. I wanted my life to be touched by magic. It may be unoriginal, but I choose my choice heartfeltly.
GAL: How often do you read?
CC: I read whenever I’m lonely or bored or procrastinating writing my book. So right now, everyday!
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot?
CC: My current favorite spot is on the lanai. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the word lanai, but I’ve been living with my grandparents over Christmas break and I’ve realized that a lot of the words that they say they have just made up for things! I’m not even sure if "lanai" is a real word, or just like a made up Calloway word for deck. Apparently I’ve gone my whole life without realizing that they call a remote a “zapper” and grocery shopping “marketing” which I’m like: ok, marketing is a real word, and it doesn’t mean buying groceries! Anyway, so the lanai is my favorite place to read. It’s a little plexiglass cube that juts out from their apartment overlooking the bay. It’s great because it has clear sliding glass doors so I can just close them when my grandparents are in the living room, and they can’t really see if they’re open or not, so it feels like we’re all in the same room and yet I also have total peace and quiet.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read?
CC: Absolutely! I know I’m supposed to be a blogger and a social media influencer and up to date on cutting edge trends of new media and tech, I’m ethically against Kindles. Unless they’re promoting literacy in a far flung corner of the world where shipping books would not be reasonable, in which case: have them! I treat books much like diaries. I write in the first page where I am and what day it is that I’m reading it. I always read with a pen in my hand. Whether it's just to underline jokes to see how they work, or to try and make a similar joke later on, to just sort of break it apart to understand the motor of that piece of humor. Or just a lovely passage, to see how the last sentence of the paragraph before set it up, or how the body of the paragraph tees up the powerful impact of the last line. All of that is like note taking to me. And on top of that, if something touches me in a particular way or reminds me of problems going on in my own life, I make that note in the margin. It’s as close as I get to keeping a daily journal. I can never finish a journal when I set out to start one.
GAL: Your Instagram functions as a journal in that capacity, right?
CC: Yeah, and have I finished Instagram? Will I ever finish Instagram?!
GAL: Is that possible to do?
CC: I've thought about this and I realized that my Instagram might just go on until I die. And that’s the sort of thought that I have just before I pick up a book – because I feel lonely and sad and then procrastinate writing my book.
GAL: How would you classify your writing?
CC: The genre of the book I’m writing is a memoir. I’ve realized how strong the general public’s misconception of memoir is. That it’s somehow based on plot. It’s like good memoirs are based on what happens in them – whether you climb a mountain or survive a near death experience. But in reality, a memoir fails or succeeds entirely based on voice. Voice, unlike content or plot, isn’t really dependent upon age. So I used to be kind of shy about calling it a memoir because I myself felt like – what 23-year-old should have a memoir? Like, what have I done content-wise that justifies that? But I realized it’s all about honing a voice. And I’ve honed a voice. And now that’s something I proudly own up to.
GAL: Do you think Instagram followers constitute a legitimate readership?
CC: I think my Instagram followers do for sure. The fact of the matter is that the content I’m producing on social media is so beautifully self-selecting in terms of its audience, if someone doesn’t want to sit and scroll through three paragraphs of funny, upbeat, autobiographical writing, they just won’t. They just won’t spend their time that way. My writing has been – and giving it away for free on the internet – has been this amazing sort of win-win situation for both myself and my readers. I get to find actual readers who care. If you read their comments, as I always do because apparently I need daily reminders that not everyone is a 300-pound convict reading this content for his own masturbatory pleasure, that they’re like actually girls my age going through the same things I'm going through. Many say something along the lines of “Reading what you write, it makes me feel better!” That’s the genre of comment that I get exclusively, and that exclusively makes me feel worthwhile. It’s beautiful that I can say with total certainty that yes, my audience are total readers.
GAL: Are you hoping to write a classically structured novel of fiction in the future?
CC: No. I’ve always wanted to be a memoirist. I personally believe, and this belief might be proven wrong, but if you consider the history of art that I’ve been classically educated about for 3 years at Cambridge, I think the trend in dance, sculpture, visual art, literature, in all of art since art started has been driving towards more and more transparency with the human experience. Although I never want to write fiction, that’s not because I don’t think fiction is worthwhile. I just think non-fiction is so worthwhile. There’s this crazy bias against it – like what journalists do is somehow not writing. That they aren’t writers. Any good piece of art that moves you has that spark to it. Whether you’re writing about what you know and making it into fiction that’s believable and seems real, or whether you’re writing about what’s real and making it into something that’s MORE believable. Something that telescopes time and sort of smooths over details in the way that makes storytelling an art of varying degrees of success. Not all stories are told equally. Some are told better than others. What makes the difference between those poorly told stories and the well told ones is craft, is art. It's that magic. I want to be a memoirist simply because I value the art of memoir so highly.
GAL: What non-fiction or fictional narratives have impacted you and your life?
CC: As a child growing up: well, we're going back to Harry Potter. All roads lead to Rome, you know?! Growing up with books like Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl definitely influenced what I wanted from the world, which in turn influenced what I eventually sought out by going to England. Artemis Fowl takes place in Ireland. Wanting to go to school in the UK – in a city of castles – having the idea in my mind that a suburban girl could not only have that dream in the real world, the dream of wanting a life that’s touched by magic, but actually achieving it? It's something that I don’t think I could have bought into with such determination had I not been raised by characters like Harry Potter and Hermione Granger and Artemis Fowl. I applied to Cambridge three times. Three times over four years. My senior year of high school I applied and got rejected. I then went on a gap year, applied again, got rejected again. Started my first year at NYU, and didn’t apply that year because I was feeling a little run down and like it might never actually happen for me. Like, maybe I am just a suburban girl who moves to New York and that’s as close to magic as my life could get. My sophomore year at NYU I applied to Cambridge and got in. I am so proud of believing in that dream even when my own grandma was like "Please, just get a diploma." So yeah, that’s a way fiction has influenced my life.
On both ends of the high low culture spectrum of non-fiction: Bossypants, Why Not Me?, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Also The Liars Club, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings or Their Eyes Were Watching God. These incredible famous female accounts of being a woman in the world that are taken so seriously whether it’s because they're cultural touchstones and iconic bestsellers that everyone who has ever been to an airport has considered buying. Or they’re authors who have spoken at inaugurations and on a school required reading list for a suburban girl. As recently as 10 years ago, those books were the only things in school that really said that you can take your precise experience of being a woman in the world and make it into art. That the very act of living is enough.
I feel very passionately about this. Something I would just love to include in this interview is that I really hope my book will help a generation of girls who can someday sell their own memoirs based not on the content or plot or how sellable they can make their shtick. To sell my memoir, I had to play up the castles and Cambridge and European boys, and I had to do that song and dance and compress my soul into an elevator pitch. The world is not ready to buy any memoir based on the idea that a young girl has ideas, writing, and creative content of universal truth. Nobody wants to believe that a young girl has anything to do with universal truth at all. That really sucks because although shticks sell, they’re reductive, and nobody likes to be reduced. I really hope that this book does well enough that it makes publishers more inclined to hear what a young girl says because of her voice, not because of horrible things that had to happen to her to warrant a memoir.
GAL: Thanks for sharing that.
CC: Did you know I’ve looked into it, research wise? I’ve applied every ounce of the researching laser beam that Cambridge gives you as a result of 3 years to try and find an example of a girl who is 23 years old or younger when they publish their first memoir. And I couldn’t find a single example of one that had a positive life. Famous examples are Malala and The Diary of Anne Frank. They literally had to survive the Holocaust and be shot and left for dead on a bus. That’s what it takes to get a young girl a memoir.
GAL: Are there men who have been granted memoir book deals that are that young?
CC: A lot of them I have not looked into or read, because I constantly feel like I’m running out of time. I’m not even going to be able to have time to read all the female memoirists I want to read before I have to finish my book.
Just think about the concept. If I were a 25-year-old male, Cambridge educated, from the states, had stepped into the world of European artistocracy and returned home to tell the tale. I could see that book being sold on the quality of my insights and the quality of the universal truth that I could write about: social satire and class criticism. But there’s no way to sell a book by a young 25-year-old girl based on those same insights. By the way, I know that you can’t sell a book based on universal truth because I tried for five years to sell it before I finally went to Cambridge. It took the shtick of European aristocracy to convince publishers that I had something to sell and say.
GAL: You have achieved something that all artists desire: the ability to have their voice heard.
CC: I honestly feel like I’m living the dream. I want to live in a magical world, and honestly, a world that teaches girls that they can have both the artistic freedom as a writer along with the money and the book deal. But girls still can’t be considered intellectual equals as men? That world has no magic in it. I hope that in my book – this point I’m making to you - how unfortunate it is that I couldn’t sell my book without that shtick is also a point that I make repeatedly in my book. The publishers can try to remove it over my dead body. I just hope that impossible quest and overcoming it and getting that book deal despite the fact that no one thinks a 23-year-old girl should have a memoir inspires young women. I hope that’s just as much a part of the magic to people. The fact that they’re holding the actual book in their hands along with the adventures that happen inside of it.
GAL: Put aside punting on the Cam, fancy dress balls and English accents, and briefly describe what it is about the educational system and structure of Cambridge you admire and enjoy.
CC: You know, I didn’t even know there were balls! I just signed up. Like, I’m going to school in a castle, that's that and the mission is accomplished! (laughs) When I got there, I didn’t understand that people my age were doing things besides drinking in sticky frat house basements. It made my head explode. I wasn’t prepared for that fact at all. What made me want to go to Cambridge was that literally, I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to be not just a writer, but a memoirist. In the same way that I’ve always known that I was a girl. It’s just always been part of my identity in almost a neutral way: like, yeah, that’s who I am, I was born this way. It was such a part of my DNA that it seemed perfectly logical to me that studying art history at a collegiate level was the only time I would be able to be educated about art because obviously I would spend the rest of my life educating myself about memoir because that would be my job. I really, really loved art. But I also really hated class. And I also really, really love doing well in school. It was incredible that Cambridge uses the entire city of Cambridge itself to teach the entire history of art. I should specify Western art history, though they are trying to expand that. With everything from Renaissance stained glass to modern sculpture gardens to 18th-century plaster casts of Greco-Roman sculptures to Dutch landscapes. Every lecture is in situ. You don’t get to escape being in a classroom altogether, but if you love school and hate being in a classroom and love art, there is no better place for you than to be one of 23 people accepted by Cambridge to study art.
GAL: Who are your three favorite authors?
CC: I’m going to give purposefully low brow picks. Honestly, having the deck stacked against you as a young female memoirist, I mean, you’re the demographic people are most likely to call uneducated, shrill, annoying, over-sharing: all those terrible words that apply to female artists specifically tear them down. With the deck stacked against you, you have nothing to lose. Read what you want to read. Read what makes your heart happy and fuck everything else!
Glennon Doyle Melton, who is a Christian mommy blogger. She gets pegged with that shtick because that’s what publishers want since Christian mommy bloggers sell, but she’s really so much more than that.
I also love Cat Marnell's new book coming out in the next week. It's called How To Murder Your Life. It’s one of the first books I had to force myself to stay awake to read, like slapping myself in the face to stay awake so I could finish it!
Heather Havrilesky writes the Ask Polly column for New York Magazine. I love her work.
GAL: Please recommend three books GAL's should read and why.
CC: Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. If people have found anything resonant in what I’ve said thus far in this interview, then you’re just going to have to take that good will and trust me that this book is more than what the title makes it sound.
Heather Havrilesky’s How to Be a Person in The World. It's just so good!
Bossypants by Tina Fey. Because honestly if you haven’t read it, what are you doing? It’s cheaper than food at this point. You can buy it at the airport for like, a dollar! If you haven’t read Bossypants then I recommend reading it then taking a good hard look at your life and ask yourself why it took you so long.