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May 8, 2008

Book Notes - Sloane Crosley ("I Was Told There'd Be Cake")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Sloane Crosley's essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake has been compared to the works of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, but the similarity I see most is to Dorothy Parker. Crosley's unique and surprisingly strong narrative voice makes this debut collection stand out from the rest of the year's nonfiction. Clever, funny, and skillfully told, I Was Told There’d Be Cake is hopefully the first book of many for this talented author.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the collection:

"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."

In her own words, here is Sloane Crosley's Book Notes essay for her book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake:

My book is called I Was Told There’d Be Cake and it’s about rodeo clowns. Rodeo clowns are the only true clowns that we have as a culture. Because they are either inherently sad – both in their own private melancholy and the way in which the word “sad” is sarcastically used as a behavioral judgment -- or they hold in them the probable potential for sadness because they’re going to get violently bucked off a moving beast. “Sad clown” is a redundancy. There’s some statistic – I don’t know where it is, but I’m sure you can find it on the internet – about clowns being, like, the eight scariest thing there is after “dentists,” “blood,” and “Nazi memorabilia.” And the rodeo clown makes no bones about that. He knows his place in the world and in the pen. He knows that as a source of fear in women, children, and little people of both sexes, his only hope of defining himself is to straddle a full-grown male bull with horns the size of human femurs. In this way, the rodeo clown tackles the deepest parts of his soul and he does it with a bright nose/outlook and a silly hat. It’s happy clown vs. sad clown, kind of like Spy vs. Spy or the Archibald MacLeish play J.B. without all the theological references or deeper meaning of any kind. I Was Told There’d Be Cake very much about mirrors this dichotomy of going through a life that is often tough by making the best of it. It is about the light at the end in the darkness and that is also what the rodeo clown is about. It’s his (or her!) m.o. As an example, I will tell you that the most famous rodeo clown in history is called “Flint Rasmussen,” a name which sounds very much like the result of mixing one’s first pet and first street name to produce one’s porn star name. And what’s more funny-but-actually-a-little-sad than PORN? I Was Told There’d Be Cake? I don’t flatter myself. But I will say this: some of us are bulls and some of us are reading this. But inside each of us is a very tiny rodeo clown. And if our inner rodeo clown had a soundtrack is would be this:

“Fairytale of New York,” by The Pogues

I defy you to listen to this song and not want to mainline Guinness, get stupid, and hop on a raging bull. If you’ve never heard it, it has the joy of a genuine surprise imbedded in it and I can’t think of many songs that truly transform like that, both in the actual notes and the way they make you feel. It’s sweet and romantic and prickly all at once.

“f*ck and Run,” by Liz Phair

“I can feel it in my bones, I’m gonna spend another year alone.” While my book does not harp on being single, I certainly was single for a good portion of it. Specifically the portion where I’m, like, 9. But beyond that as well. This line has always gotten to me. As if I’d been unconsciously holding my breath until this song came along and told me to stop doing because it does what every song should do: makes you feel like you’re commiserating. Actually, the “Cassettes Won’t Listen” version is even better.

“Don’t Need A Reason,” by Beth Orton

Seems wrong to explain a song called “Don’t Need A Reason” so I won’t. I’ll just say that this album is perhaps the only one I have ever purchased strictly from a review. It must have been 1997 and I read a review in the back of Surface* magazine, got in my car, drove to the store and bought it.

“Something Pretty” by Patrick Park

Definitely starts off sounding like something you’d find stuck on a semi-abandoned jukebox (rodeo clowns unite!) but then turns into something pretty soulful. Not so awesome for writing humor but in truth, the music that best chimes with “humor” is generally stuff you’d want to dance to and it’s hard to dance and write. Logistically.

“Under My Thumb,” by The Rolling Stones

Was this on The Big Chill soundtrack? If not, why? It always reminds me of The Big Chill. Then again, so does Kevin Costner for the exact same reason. It’s also just a fantastic song. I don’t mean to deprive it of any classic great song qualities by saying this but it’s a bit like tofu. A song that will pick up whatever mood you’re in and play to it.

“Me & Mr. Jones,” by Amy Winehouse

Winehouse? Total rodeo clown. She’s “sad” in all the appropriate ways and her soulful music, though annoyingly popular and poppy, is pretty great to listen to if you pretend you know nothing about her. Very much like that dirty wallpaper that looks like a harmless French Country side pattern, but upon closer examination is actually a bunch of peasants making out and doing drugs.

“All Along the Watchtower,” by Bob Dylan

This song always makes me feel like I’m in a movie montage on someone writing, especially if I’m on my laptop and in a specific corner of my apartment. Plus, I know it so well (as does everyone in the English-speaking world) that the lyrics can actually fade away and the melody is strangely motivating because of the way it builds.

“A Girl Like You,” by Edwyn Collins

If this song were an animal, it’d be a slutty viper. That’s really all there is to it.

“Ain’t Nothing But a Heartache,” by The Flirtations

This song is weirdly hard to find. I had it on a mix but lost the mix and then I tried to find it on i-tunes and i-tunes gave me the run-around, eventually forcing me to download this kind of techno “I should have been left at the Limelight” version. Which upset me, but which I listened to anyway, the way you’ll listen to a decent song when you’re driving somewhere desolate and it’s the first thing to come through the static that’s not talk radio. But then – hurrah! – I found the mix so it’s back and I could never imagine growing sick of it. The sadder it gets upon multiple listens, the more it makes you smile to yourself.

Sloane Crosley and I Was Told There'd Be Cake links:

the author's website
the author's MySpace page
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's video trailer
the book's page at the publisher
excerpt from the book

Bookforum review
Christian Science Monitor review
Forbes review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Observer review
Newsday review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Seattle Times review
Stop Smiling review
Time Out New York review
Velocity Weekly review

Authors@Google video of the author's reading
Bostonist interview with the author
Entertainment Weekly profile of the author
KQED feature on the author
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Observer profile of the author
The Phoenix interview with the author
Radar interview with the author
San Francisco Chronicle profile of the author
USA Today profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)