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Satirist Sloane Crosley has been compared to Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, and Sarah Vowell. Her debut, 2008’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake, became a New York Times bestseller, staying on the list for months, and was a finalist for Thurber Prize for American Humor. 


Her second collection of nonfiction humor writing, How Did You Get This Number (publishing this week) regales with hilarious tales – from an awkward solo vacation to Lisbon, where she befriends a trio of amateur clowns, to her attempts to ditch her kleptomaniac NYC roommate to a run-in with a black bear while visiting Alaska.


PopMatters 20 Questions found her at a seemingly safe and quiet spot, for the moment, someplace with contemplation-inducing bathroom tiles…


cover art

How Did You Get This Number

Sloan Crosley

(Penguin; US: Jun 2010)

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I’ve cried at two books and two short stories that I can recall off the top of my head.  The Chosen by Chaim Potok just hit me at the right place and the right time (I don’t know what I mean by that…because I was a Hassidic/Zionist teenage boy struggling with my identity? That can’t be right). But I remember reading it and straight-up weeping. 


Then, years later, What Is The What by Dave Eggers.  I had to move to tissue box closer to me for that.  But I don’t think I’d cry at either of those books, now. Maybe because they are both epic and so I remember them as much more than a single scene or chapter that made me cry. 


But stories have less surface area.  All I have to do is read two lines of Michael Cunningham’s “White Angel” or Alice Elliot Dark’s “In the Gloaming” and my mind zips straight to the gut-wrenching kickers.


As for movies, I generally don’t cry at those.  Except for Glitter.  Naturally, I wept like a baby through the whole thing.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I have no idea. That’s like asking me which actress I resemble.  I’m sure I’d come up with a careful response.  Same thing with the personality traits of fictional characters.  I can plug part of my personality into one person’s clumsiness, another’s humor, etc. 


I always liked Janeane Garofalo’s character in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, but that’s not quite right.  And I love the wife in White Noise, but that’s not right, either.  That’s the issue with comparisons, I guess.  You enter into the room through what you think is the most obvious door and everyone else gets in through the other, like, five.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Probably Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall or The Clash’s London Calling. I think the real answer to this question lies with The Rolling Stones or The Beatles but because I can never keep track of which song was on which album, maybe there’s something to that. They’re both historically awesome bands, but if I can’t picture the songs off a single album…


Of course, I’m a big ol’ girl at heart and I went to an all-girls camp in the woods growing up so I’ll settle on Joni Mitchell’s Blue


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Neither.


5. Your ideal brain food?
Probably The New Yorker. At least that’s what I’ve been “eating” the longest.  After that, taking a walk in the park.  It’s not a very creative response and I don’t know why that works but it does.  I think you’re supposed to get inspired by the people you see or the scenes you witness but I am rarely directly inspired. 


Maybe it’s just the simple act of taking a break and I could just as easily be staring at the tile in my bathroom.  But that doesn’t sound very pleasant.


cover art

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

Sloan Crosley

(Penguin; US: Apr 2008)

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I think these essays [from How Did you Get This Number] are darker and riskier and more personal than the essays in I Was Told There’d Be Cake.


Our culture puts such an unfair premium on confession. That’s not good for young writers because they confess everything and then wonder where their prize and their back pat is. The trick is to do it and challenge yourself to make it art.  Make it something you’d read if you weren’t you.  That’s very hard. I’m not saying it’s not. And then to make it funny. That’s hard, too.


I don’t think every one of the essays in How Did You Get This Number accomplishes that exact goal.  But a few I think do and as for the ones that don’t?  I hope it’s apparent that’s what I was aiming for. 


I’m very lucky.  The very first pieces I ever published weren’t about me in the slightest.  They were music and book reviews or about cultural trends.  So I actually don’t think of what I do as memoir, anyway.  This [the book] is parts of my life, but my end goal isn’t to introduce you to a character.  That is a wonderful side effect when it happens and if I write well enough, but if I was aiming directly at it, you’d get an outline of what I ate today and how I had to restart my computer when it froze and me picking at my nails. 


7. You want to be remembered for…?
I just want to be remembered.  I think that’s a pretty good goal.  To have a community of people, both personal and professional, who see something in the world that reminds them of you – a piece of music, a movie, an expression, a strange brand of candy. That’s good.


8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I’m going to narrow this to “deceased inspiration” because there are too many living to name. George Plimpton.  I sat next to George Plimpton at the US Open when I was a little kid and my father was on the other side and whispered do you know who that is? I said I had no idea and very loudly and rudely.


I met Plimpton much later and told him that story and he laughed this really uproarious disproportionate-to-the-story laugh. Which was both very embarrassing and very kind of him. It’s fun to think of him so admirably and be in such awe of him and then have this insane sounding snort to go with it.


And David Foster Wallace.  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.  God, that book. That was a terrible night when the publishing community learned of his death.  He was our Kurt Cobain.  Not because he took his own life but because of the kind of people he inspired and how he was such a beloved game-changer.  I’m sure that somehow cheapens them both or maybe exaggerates them both, but it felt like that. 


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Certain artwork.  But that’s more me wishing I could paint. I would love to be able to paint or sculpt.  I don’t think there’s a specific piece of literature I wish I had written.  Though it would be pretty dope to just hammer out Lorri Moore’s story, “People Like That Are the Only People Here” or Joan Didion’s essay, “Goodbye To All That” and just float it out into the world. Oh, this old thing?


10. Your hidden talents…
I can make a noise that sounds just like a dolphin. I can spin around in circles really fast and not get dizzy.  I have a good visual memory. It’s not photographic but I used to study for tests by remembering an illustration in my textbook and then picturing the paragraphs around it, the way the sentences began and how the information was divided.  No illustration, no Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poof. Gone. And unfortunately, there’s a real dearth of illustrations in the books I read, now. So I can’t remember shit.


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Actually, this is the start of one of the last essay in How Did You Get This Number. I mention two pieces of advice my mother gave me. I don’t want to ruin it. 


I guess if I had a third, also from her, it would be: Never ask someone if they’re coming to a party because then you risk making them feel bad if they weren’t invited. I break it all the time. And, sure enough, it’s always awkward. Never not awkward. I don’t learn.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
The best thing I ever bought myself was a very expensive handbag that I spent almost half my first book advance on.  Trust me, that says more about the level of my book advance than the level of the handbag. 


Also, a pretty great stuffed chicken named Horatio.  He lives in a bell jar.


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Oh, Armani.  I’m a plain white t-shirt and jean girl at heart but come on. Who was it that said “I’d rather be crying in the back of a Rolls Royce than be happy on a bicycle?” Well, I don’t entirely quote agree with that.  I think it depends on the bicycle.


Actually, I don’t own anything by either of those brands so I can probably just opt out of this question.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Truman Capote.  Paul Gauguin.  John Cheever. Janis Joplin. Jonny Cash. Because they could all drink.


15. Time travel: where, when and why?
The future.  Just a little though.  Maybe a year.  I think it would make me realize how many more risks I should be taking in the moment.  Because it probably wouldn’t be too dissimilar from now and the future is meant to be messed with.  I plan too much and would like to plan less. 


Ten years is a different story. Or 100.  If I could have a margin of a century, screw it: I’d go backwards instead of forwards and buy up everything from 14th Street down.  Wait… I can take my wallet with me, right?


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Spa vacation.  I like less frenzy, not more and hiring a hit man strikes me as very involved.  Prozac, too.  A lot of effort to go to someone to give it to you and then you have to fill the prescription.


Though I went on a spa vacation once with my mother and sister and they’ll kill me if they read this but I was bored out of my mind.  It was a lot of walks and apricot-scented lotion and massage and yoga and little berries on toothpicks. 


I liked the massage and I liked hanging out with them but only when we weren’t lounging in bathrobes talking about how relaxed we were.  Few things make me more anxious than people talking about how relaxed they are.


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
First off, it’s really weird that “whippets” isn’t on this list but I’ll let it go. I’d say coffee. Coffee took a while to wrap its little caffeinated tendrils around my brain.  I wasn’t a big drinker of it in high school or college. 


New England trips felt wrong without a large iced one from Dunkin’ Donuts but I never woke up in a man’s shirt with Ray Bans mumbling “coffee…someone get me coffee…” I mean the first two things, sure, but that’s neither here nor there.  But now I feel off if I don’t have a cup by noon at the latest.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
New York.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Thank you.  And then, well, be brave.  I can’t imagine how hard that is when you have to be brave with the finances and troubles of an entire country.  I think he’s after putting several major dents in our history and I want him to keep going.


People question those motivations.  History later at the price of now?  But honestly: who the Hell cares if it’s the best thing, the right choice?  I don’t.  I’m talking about Health Care, incidentally. 


Anyway, lots more to say but that’ll have to do for now.  I’m not 100 percent happy with his job performance but I find it’s when there’s hesitation masquerading as bipartisanship and I don’t always understand why.


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
This questionnaire. And being less literal.

Karen Zarker, Managing Editor at PopMatters, works with a talented array of writers throughout the magazine. She manages the PopMatters Books Series, and also holds many behind-the-scenes operational responsibilities. She can be reached at zarker(at)popmatters.com.


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