From accidentally despoiling an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History to siccing the cops on the wrong neighbor, Sloane Crosley can do no right, despite the best of intentions—or perhaps because of them. In a sharp, original storytelling style that confounds expectations at every turn, Crosley recounts her victories and catastrophes in an irresistible voice that is all her own, finding genuine insights in the most unpredictable places.
“Nuptials. Sounds like something you get a case of. See: I felt a case of the nuptials coming on so I had a full-body fiancé.”
“Quirky twentysomething essayist Crosley has a gimlet eye for everyday
absurdities—especially those she encounters as she maneuvers the
wilds of Manhattan. In this stellar debut, she riffs on everything from
the meaning of her cache of plastic ponies to being maid of honor for
a woman she hasn’t seen since high school. Crosley’s style
is so conversationally intimate that you’ll feel as though you’re
sitting with her at a café, breathlessly waiting to hear what she’s
going to tell you next.”
“Whether she’s locking herself out
of her apartment twice in one day, baking a cookie in the shape of her
face to win her approval, or trying to determine which of her friends
defecated on her bathroom floor, Sloane Crosley asserts herself as a new
master of nonfiction situational comedy in I Was
Told There’d Be Cake, her debut collection of hilariously
uncomfortable personal essays.”
“The essays in this exquisite collection,
Crosley’s first, spin around a young woman's growing up and her first
experiences in a big city, New York, as it happens. The voice feels a
little like Nora Ephron's, a little like Dorothy Parker’s and David Sedaris’,
although Crosley has a spry wistfulness that's very much her own. We envy
the lucky guy who found the right words to ask her for a date while she
was hanging from a strap in the subway, and applaud the arrival of a very
“Sloane Crosley channels David Sedaris—and
Carrie Bradshaw—in a slightly cracked and often charming collection of
essays recounting a suburban girl's adventures in the big city.”
“Crosley’s book [is] a welcome departure from the increasingly
tired genre of first-person prose as stand-up comedy. Unlike David Sedaris
(I went to Anne Frank’s house and all I got was real-estate lust!)
and other hugely successful practitioners, Crosley forces herself up against
not her exquisite selfishness but some ideal she’s grasping for—female
camaraderie, neighborliness, sanity. She’s also got a sharp, fizzily
old-fashioned sense of the madcap that, in the best pieces, has you thinking
that she’s figured how to cross Mary Tyler Moore with Kingsley Amis—as
well as wondering, now that she’s updated the role of ingenue by
concocting a bracing cocktail of credulity and crankiness, what she might
be able to do with a novel.”
“Hyped like she’s the next David
Sedaris, Crosley is sure to inspire envy of epic proportions. The horrible
catch: Her books is truly well-crafted and genuinely funny.”
“A vibrant voice… piquant prose… Her writerly persona
is a blend of candor, wit and self-deprecation… Smart, sardonic.”
“There’s a giddy coherence to the collection. This
is accomplished in part by Crosley’s voice, a weird, alluring intersection
of Dorothy Parker-esque, Fran Lebowitz-ish archness and loopy, almost
slaphappy sensibility… its zany episodes and poignant interludes
transcend the author’s particular experience to gesture at something
more universal… many readers will hopelessly, helplessly, see themselves.”
be in lurve with Sloane Crosley after you read her hilarious new memoir, I
Was Told There’d Be Cake… Although
the stories are set in New York, Crosley’s plights are universally
relatable and described in a voice that’s supremely witty and genuine.”
“Crosley’s essays expertly juggle
the hilarious and a mournful sense of the passage of time….a triumph
of both the universal and the specific.”
“Riveting… Masterful… She's ironic, droll and
self-pillorying and, like Sedaris, she manages to balance passages that
are laugh-out-loud funny with others that are both touching and resonant.
Above all Crosley manages, Midas-like, to take the minutiae of her life — and
all of our lives — and turn it into gold.”
“I Was Told There'd
Be Cake is
a collection of rip-roaring essays following Crosley's misadventures in
the Big City…. Sloane's
is a generous, sparkling hilarity, and if the show is in Technicolor,
the laughs are never cheap. By the end of the book, the flirtation has
worked, and you're left desperate for more.”
“A delightful debut collection… Crosley takes her own bittersweet
time in these 15 essays, carefully building momentum with telling details,
deft asides, plus well-orchestrated absurdities. The new author comes
across less as stand-up comic and more as an everyperson who uses her
off-kilter humor to muddle through the inevitable belly flops of fledgling
adulthood…. Utterly hilarious… Engaging…. Irrepressible.”
“This hilarious book of 15 essays
explores the challenges of being a 20-something woman. The author covers
everything from hiding her childhood toys under the sink to being a bridesmaid
for a less-than-good friend. Witty and honest, the book will feel like
brunch with your girlfriends, but funnier.”
debut essay collection is full of sardonic wit and charm, and Crosley
effortlessly transforms what could have been stereotypical tales of
mid-20s life into a breezy series of vignettes with uproariously unpredictable
outcomes....Fans of Sarah Vowell’s razor-sharp tongue will love this
original new voice.”
“Sloane Crosley is another mordant
and mercurial wit from the realm of Sedaris and Vowell. What makes her
so funny is that she seems to be telling the truth, helplessly.”
“Charming, elegant, wise, and comedic, these
essays absolutely sparkle and entertain. Sloane Crosley is a twenty-first-century
Dorothy Parker, and this book is a gem and heralds a wry new voice
in American letters. Gorgeous writing, outrageous humor—it’s
“Whether you’re involved in a love/hate
relationship with just yourself or with the entire world, these essays
will charm the pants off you—but not so as you’ll feel
violated. Sloane Crosley is bright and funny and enchanting. This is
a sparkling debut.”
“Hilarious and affecting and only occasionally
scatological, I Was Told There’d Be Cake is lively reminiscence
about growing up strange. Sardonic without being cruel, tender without
being sentimental, Sloane Crosley will win you over with this delightful
“I Was Told There’d Be Cake begins
with a hilarious first sentence, and gets funnier from there.”
“I love Sloane Crosley. In I Was Told There’d
Be Cake, she navigates the social, the moral, the romantic experiences
that prompt her to create her own voice and freshly define the world
around her. Crosley is a postmodern Mary Tyler Moore, and this book
is wry, generous, knowing—a perfect document of what it is
to be young in today’s world.”
Sloane Crosley’s essays have appeared in various publications, including Playboy, Salon, the New York Times, and the Village Voice, where she was a frequent contributor. She also wrote the cover story for the worst-selling issue of Maxim in that magazine’s history. She lives in New York City.
New York City
Have your own drawerful of plastic ponies or other “nostalgic” mementoes of love gone awry and other hilarious disappointments and minor humiliations? Share your traumatic trinkets with us at The Pony Project flickr group.
How did this book come to be?
While I was moving in Manhattan, I managed to brilliantly lock myself out of two separate apartments – two, count them, two – on the same day. Since moving from walk-up to walk-up in New York is already one of those infamously difficult tasks that really shouldn’t be difficult, I thought that having the same epic struggle within a 12-hour period was a good story. So I typed up what was essentially a play-by-play about the experience and sent it to some friends over e-mail, including an editor at The Village Voice. He worked with me on editing it, cleaning it up, and making it a larger story. And I found that I loved doing it and it worked. So he printed the piece and I started writing regularly for The Voice, followed by other places. Before that, I had only written longer fiction and suddenly I found myself enamored with the other side. Writing the essays specifically for I Was Told There’d be Cake was such a wonderfully fun experience. With a book, you have the room take yourself out for a spin. You can let each essay take it’s own shape and to really tell a story over time. Whereas writing 800 words for a newspaper or magazine can be a bit like – speed dating.
How does any essayist avoid being self-indulgent?
By answering questions about themselves? No, that can’t be right. Really, though, I can only say what I do. Which is this: open a page, scan for the capital letter “i” and remove as many as possible. Really. Beyond that, there’s a maze effect to most peoples brains, including mine. It seems like a big jumble and it can be frightening to dig like that into your own life and your own observations. There is the fear that what you produce will make sense to no one but you, that it will resonate with only you. And perhaps your mother. But 9 times out of 10, if you keep going – remember more, get a little weirder, think a little bigger – you can actually come out the other end of the maze where it’s clear. To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of all genres of writing, this idea that the more detailed you get about a person or a place or a kitchen appliance, the more readers will actually relate to it. It seems like it should be scientifically impossible. Like how bees technically aren’t supposed to be able to fly because their wings are too short. But they do.
Do you feel like the narrative voice is an extension of your own voice, or did you have to do some tweaking?
It is my own voice. There are certainly times when I wrote something that seemed adopted or borrowed. I felt obliged to treat a topic in either a more gentle or more critical manner. But the next time I’d go through the material, I’d think: who invited this a-hole? and change it back. I’m not sure if those moments would be perceptible to anyone else, had they been left in, but they felt false to me.
Media and Tour Inquiries:
Lecture and Public Reading
THE PUBLISHER'S DELIGHTFUL WEBSITES
Author Photo: Jayne Wexler
The Diorama Diaries
I was trying to figure out what to do for this website to make it a little more fun. I knew it had to be tied to the book, but the book is lacking in references to music videos or pyrotechnics or home shopping network references…or other such website-friendly content. I tried to think simple. I flipped through the pages with the website in mind. How could I cram the book back into the computer, short of feeding the pages in through the cd drive? Then I spotted this, from the essay “Christmas in July”:
“In third grade I had to make a diorama about the Inuit. I showed up to school with a Plexiglas case that housed an igloo made from nail-filed sugar cubes and a battery-powered fan that created dry ice. It was difficult to claim I had created a functioning arctic biosphere on my own, given that long division was a struggle.”
Plexiglas! Yes! It was like The Graduate redux. I could turn my essays into three-dimensional dioramas and at least attempt to make them as detailed as the ones I used to make with my dad. So I picked three essays—“Sign Language for Infields,” “Smell This,” and “The Pony Problem.” I figured they were the most visual and that they would lend themselves the best toward diorama production.
The Plexiglas, divided into compartments,
would replicate the experience of reading the essays. Since the essay paragraphs
(hopefully) flow into each other, the dioramas are set up so that you can
see the next scene while looking at the previous one. And when you’re
done examining each compartment, you can look at the whole thing at
Peering from one
scene to another in “The Pony Problem”
This also would enable me to put photos in the background of each scene, behind the glass. This way, if the dioramas turned out horribly, the photo on the back walls could still hint at what the dioramas were meant to be.
The Tao of Drink Stirrers:
In a way, these dioramas began long before I started writing the essays they represent. That would be in 4th grade. At least 4th grade is my first real memory of a Crosley Family diorama, though I feel certain there were labor-intensive crafts projects prior to that. Dioramas like the ones we built simply don’t appear from nowhere without a background of meticulous creativity.* Anyway, I was 9 years old and had just finished reading The Wind in the Willows and was assigned to make a diorama of my reading choice. Eschewing the standard shoebox-and-fusili medium, my father and I took the first of many trips to Plastic Works to purchase the foundations of the diorama – a four-sided (plus the floor) Plexiglas box made from the factory’s scrap material. It looked like a model of a theater, or like the ultimate shoebox. I don’t remember Wind in the Willows very well but I remember the diorama perfectly. There must have been a scene in which the charters’ rowboat overturned and they swam underwater. Because that is the scene I set about depicting. The top of the diorama would become the surface of the water, complete with overturned boat, and moss around the edges. And the walls and floor were painted like bottom of lake, decorated with paper and sand and paint. After that, I hung several sheets of clear plastic widthwise from the back to the font of the scene, decorating each in different spots with swimming people and underwater creatures so that it in the end, if you looked at the diorama head-on, it gave the illusion of depth. But the best thing about the diorama by far came from McDonalds.
My father and I went there for breakfast one weekend. After weeks of gluing and sawing and soldering (really…one doesn’t just go out and purchase a perfectly scaled up-side-down row boat), the diorama was pretty much finished. My father got coffee and as he set it down by the sugar packets, I picked two plastic coffee stirrers out of the dispenser, held them up and said, “oars?” This is a seminal moment in the history of my relationship with my father. If you call him right now and just say, “drink stirrers” into the phone and hang up, he’ll know what you’re talking about. He may also call the police, but at least he’ll know what you’re talking about. I’m smiling as I type this, thinking of the profound and in-sync joy we both felt upon realizing that these two pieces of white plastic would be taken home, painted brown, and given a higher purpose: glued to the surface of some fake water, drifting away from a tiny overturned boat.
Not only are the oars bigger than Wind in the Willows, but they are bigger than a relationship between a father and a daughter. They are a way of life. The Tao of the drink stirrers. Just as it is in a single tiny life of a human, good dioramas involve a lot of planning. And a lot of plans that don’t work out.* But the best part is by far the unexpected aspects, which often arise from problems that need to be solved. Not to mention the whole “life is in the details” thing. Which is kind of where funny essays come from. The details of life are blown up under a microscope until you realize that it’s the daily oddities of our existence that make it what it is. And these dioramas are meant to do that to the extreme – the essays are life shrunken down and interpreted on the page. These are the essays then shrunken down and interpreted on, well, Plexiglas. In some ways, I felt I was getting further and further from where I started as I built these. Keep heading down this path, I thought, and I’ll wind up with a bunch of solid color blocks (see: “oh, yeah, the purple one? That’s essay #9. Can’t you see it?”)
Life shrunk down - not quite far enough?
But occasionally looking at the finished dioramas is actually a similar experience to looking at the finished essays. In the essays, a certain phrase or paragraph or description jars me from the process of writing it down and I am immediately taken back to the actual moment in which I got locked out of my apartment and baked a cookie shaped like my boss’s head. In the dioramas, it’s the same thing. I spent a good deal of time hunting down orange plastic spoons to represent the seats on a subway but all I have to do is look at that dark plastic bag and I remember not the essay, but the actual experience.
If this sounds like a dramatic stretch to extract this much meaning from a pair of plastic drink stirrers, I can understand why. But it’s not. Rather, if it is, I’m not in on the joke. Or maybe I just lead a small life. Quite possible Either way, it was a fun extraction and one which allowed for a lot of inadvertent glue-sniffing.
*see Diorama “Smell
4: That area rug is on loan from my mother, who needle pointed for
our family dollhouse.
Our Journey Begins
The only thing I knew was that the dioramas had to have more than one scene per essay. Certain essays wouldn’t work because they took place over a longer journey or period of time. So, for example, “Christmas in July” was out of the question because I’d basically need to depict my entire childhood and almost a decade at a cultish summer camp. I didn’t think there was enough balsa wood in the world for that. So the essays were partially chosen so that they could be divided up into even scenes: two dioramas of four and one diorama of two.
I knew vaguely what I wanted when I took the train up to Westchester and drove over to PlasticWorks with my dad. Plastic Works had moved buildings. They used to be in a great big purple building, an old factory in Stanford which has since become a restaurant. But when I walked in with my dad to the new building, the scent of Plexiglas brought me back. A note on Plexiglas: it is an incredibly cheesy substance. A lot of it is used to make coffee tables that have “funky” or “modern” shapes. A Plexiglas lamp base it’s not something one thinks of as the brass ring of lamp bases. But take a step into Plasticworks, and I swear, you will wonder why you ever bought a piece of wooden or glass furniture in your life. It’s as if a gauntlet was thrown down in, say, 1982, and PlasticWorks was presented with this just one substance and dared to make all of life’s objects out if it. And boy did they succeed! CD racks, jewelry cases, vases, butter dishes chairs, shelves and picture frames. It is nothing short of amazing. Plus, we ran into Bobby Valentine while we were there. Bobby picked up a large sheet of custom-cut Plexiglas wrapped in brown paper. After he left, my father asked the owner what Bobby was up to. I cringed. Didn’t he know about the retail/client privilege? What if it was something dirty? What business was it of ours? Without skipping a beat, the owner told us the seedy truth: he was building a display case for his baseball memorabilia. Okay, my bad.
Sadly, they just don’t make scrap piles like they used to. With only the tiniest squares of Plexiglas available for free, I could maybe make a diorama for an ant colony. Which was a bit too detailed, even for my purposes. So I had these diorama boxes made-to-order and my father kindly picked them up for me and drove them into Manhattan a few weeks later.
My acrylic fantasies fulfilled!
When they arrived, I unwrapped them from their paper, stacked them up on top of each other, and stared at them for a long time. They were gleaming and smelled like chemicals and all I could picture belonging in them were some signed baseballs. Every time I tried to plan out what would go in one compartment or the other, I’d get stuck, realizing that I couldn’t execute my “vision” without going out into the world of crafts and seeing what was possible*. Actually, I did have one object under my belt. When I was in Westchester, after I had the dioramas ordered, I dropped by a train hobby shop. Talk about miniaturizing real life – there’s an entire plastic package you can buy for winter scenes and its called “People on Sleighs.” Displayed between the samples of miniature train track and metal cable cars, were a rack of automotive vehicles like racecars and fire trucks. There I made my first acquisition for the dioramas: a toy ambulance. An ambulance is referenced in the first paragraph of the first essay, one which I also happened to be building. In the essay I imagine what it would be like if I got into an accident and was carted away in an ambulance. I imagine what my friends and family would find in my apartment after I was gone. Of course, in the most meta twist of all, they would find a diorama of that very scene.
*Thank you to the lovely people at Lee’s Art Supply on 57th Street who tolerated a barrage of questions about simulated moss and Styrofoam.