Wellp, it was bound to happen sooner or later: we have found a book that I didn’t particularly like.
I’m usually pretty lucky with books–I’m quite picky, but I’ve learned to read all the back cover/front flap/back flap/summary/copyright page/etc stuff plus a few random sample paragraphs while I’m still at the bookstore, deciding whether or not to buy a particular title. This weeds out a lot of books before we even get started. The few that slip through are usually there on recommendation, or because I found the title in an online list or roundup or some such and decided to take a risk.
That latter bit is exactly what happened with Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake.
I’m pretty sure I ran across this title in an “if you liked X, then you’ll like Y” list somewhere. So I hunted it down online, learned that it’s a collection of humorous memoirs, and read a few sample pages of the first story, “The Pony Problem”…and she hooked me.
“The Pony Problem” talks about how Crosley’s offhand, jokey response to everything is “ponies”…as in, “What would you like to do this weekend?” / “Go pony riding!”. Or “What do you want for your birthday?” / “A pony!”. I found this extra-hilarious because I do exactly the same thing (I totally thought I was the only one). It’s been my running schtick for ages now. So it cracked me up to hear that someone else did the same thing, and I ordered the book immediately.
And then it arrived, and I sat down and read “The Pony Problem”, and chuckled my way through it; but then as the essays kept coming and I kept reading, I found myself being less and less…well, interested.
It’s like–ok, imagine your first day at a new job. You’ve come in, you’ve met the people, and now it’s your first lunch break. So one of the gals invites you to sit with her, and you get to chatting, and discover some superficial similarities–same college major, an overlapping idiosyncrasy or two–and by the end of lunch you’re feeling pretty groovy, thinking you’ve made a nifty new work friend.
But as time progresses and you get to know your other coworkers, you realize there are actually other folks with whom you have a lot more in common than you do with First Day Lunch Pal. It never reaches the point of shunning First Day Pal altogether–I mean, you’re not a horrible person, and she really is pretty nice, and maybe you still have lunch together every now and again–but she has her Close Work Friends and you develop your Close Work Friends and you and she pretty much just stay in the Nice Enough People But They’re Not Getting Invited to My Wedding sphere.
And that’s ok. You don’t have to be BFF with everyone you meet. And someday, when that job is a blip in the rearview mirror of your life, you realize that there are a few folks with whom you are still Facebook friends and whom you still invite to your parties, while First Day Pal’s last name has mostly slipped your mind (though you’re pretty sure it started with an M, or possibly an N? Or a P?).
That’s a really roundabout way to describe it, but it’s pretty much exactly how I felt about Crosley: she’s pretty much my literary First Day Pal. Her essays are amusing, sure; but we come from radically different planets, without enough overlap for me to really be able to identify with her. We share some superficial similarities (“hey, I like books too! Wouldja lookit that.”), but not enough to sustain more than basic small talk if we showed up at the same party. And we’re moved by different things–she’s got that New York ambition thing going, and I’ve got the laid-back Kansas approach to the world.
All of which meant that reading her memoirs felt…well, anthropological, I guess. I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my brain around her, and just plain failing; and eventually I decided that since I was reading this for fun and not for a class–and since I’m a grownup with an English degree which means I’ve read quite enough books of other people’s choosing, thankyouverymuch, and now I get to pick my own–I was allowed to set it down and walk away. I made it about halfway through, and that was enough for me, in the same way that having lunch with First Day Pal every couple of weeks is plenty, and there’ll be no need to invite her over for a crafting afternoon.
So I’m not saying this is a terrible book–it’s funny in places, and some folks will really get a kick out of Crosley’s misadventures and her writing style. It just wasn’t for me. Y’know, like blue cheese, or Seinfeld.
TL;DR: Humorous and quirky, I Was Told There’d Be Cake is a series of memoir essays by Sloane Crosley–who I’m sure is a delightful gal, but I found that we didn’t really have enough in common for me to go out of my way to finish reading the book. I’m sure others will get a huge kick out of it; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Rating: 6.5/10 Muddy Hoofprints, but again, don’t let that scare you off. You should really, really give her a try–she might end up being your new favorite author. She just didn’t move me, and so I have to give her a rating that reflects my “meh” response. It ain’t personal. Mama BW still loves all the children of the choir.