Venture capitalist and Harvard Law School alum Yadin Kaufmann ’84 is breaking back into the world of publishing after a 19-year hiatus. Hundreds of Heads Survival Guides™ has just released How to Survive Your Freshman Year, the first of a series that includes other titles like How to Survive Dating and How to Survive Your Baby’s First Year.
The new project may not really be such a big departure from the business world. The series, whose title plays off the old adage “Two heads are better than one,” required no writing, only interviewing and editing. “We got a few dozen interviewers, mainly journalists, all over the country to go out and talk to people,” Kaufmann said. “They went out to well over a hundred schools, just went out to people…asking them their experiences about college life,”
The guide is a compendium of a lot of advice from a lot of different people, culled and organized by topic. The goal, according to Kaufmann, is “to give readers a lot of different viewpoints. There are plenty of other books to tell you, ‘this is the way to do something.’ We did not want to do that. Some of the advice in here is contradictory.”
What results is a book that is sometimes inane, sometimes funny, and maybe sometimes useful—just what you might expect if you were to travel from school to school trustingly asking students what you need to know about college life.
“I think that I would have been confused because of the contradictory advice,” said Rebecca S. Miller ’06. “I think there is some helpful advice in this book but it is difficult to get to because it’s buried. In theory it could be useful if the advice were serious…Many of these quotes are hilarious but clearly not meant to be real advice.”
Here’s one of my favorite parts from the chapter on dorm life, contributed by a UVA sophomore: “Respect your roommate and don’t leave pizza in the room for a week. It’s not your roommate’s job to throw it out. The room stinks; it’s not livable. People don’t want to come in your room because it stinks. And don’t try to blame the bad smell on the fact that your roommate’s clothes are on the floor. That is not what’s causing the nasty, rotten smell in your room. That would be the pizza box that you left there for a week” (page 42).
First-year Emma J. Bloomfield ’08 perused the book as well. “I don’t think I would have been attracted to this book in the bookstore. It’s more geared toward parents. If it had been given to me I might have perused it really quickly and I would have decided that it’s mostly amusing, and there’s a lot of truth in the quotes but it’s very muddled and there are a lot of contradictions.”
Some of the book’s interviewees dismiss the need for a computer on the grounds that life is better without AIM. Some say caffeine pills are the number one thing to bring to college, and some contribute by describing how they keep the smell of smoke from leaking out under the door.
These entertaining bits fill the gaps between a few more serious-minded tips—study in the library, make a schedule and stick to it, don’t leave your drink sitting out at a party if you’re a girl.
The set-up of the book may have posed a problem. “There’s no broad introduction,” Bloomfield said. “This format just makes me think the book is more geared toward amusing people rather than really giving a succinct impression of the first year in college.”
According to Byron D. MacDougall ’07, “It wouldn’t have helped me any more than if I had taken the time to talk to two or three of my older friends and listened to their perspective on the whole experience… Then you can judge both the advice and the person it comes from for yourself.”
Kaufman will be at the Coop for a book-signing tomorrow from 1-3 p.m., specifically scheduled to coincide with Freshmen Parent’s Weekend. That means a lot of first-years may be receiving autographed copies from doting parents.
If your parents give you this book, do take time to look through it: it’s good for a few laughs, and who knows, some of the advice might prove useful.