RandomAnthony's Reviews > I Was Told There'd Be Cake

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
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Oct 10, 2008

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Read in October, 2008


So you want to be a successful memoirist/personal essayist? Follow these ten steps and wait for the book deals to roll into your mailbox!

1. Write about your upbringing in ways that make it sound charming in its quirkiness (e.g. the Vowell/Klosterman strategy), charming in its weirdness (the Sedaris strategy) or terrifying (the Burroughs strategy). Under no circumstances should you have normal, perceptive parents who were socially adept with no strange habits whatsoever. No one wants to read about that.

2. Write about high school and college, but make sure you don’t make your experience sound too fun or interesting.. Make sure you write about your social and academic struggles and/or humiliations so your readers can either relate and/or feel superior. Do not be popular at college or high school! This is the kiss of death. Make sure you paint yourself as kind of a loser.

3. Write about the shitty jobs you’ve had. Remember, some of your readers may have shitty jobs and want to be successful writers themselves. You have to give them the glimmer of hope that they, too, will be someday interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”.

4. Write about religion but only from a distant “my family wasn’t that into it” or “my family was into it but I’m not now” perspective. Stating “I still go to mass every Sunday, yep, sit in the back pew” will kill your book deal.

5. Write about your family, of course, but choose a strategy (see #1) and stick with it. Make sure you are alternately embarrassed in front of and embarrassed by your family. Loving parents are ok as long as they’re generally clueless.

6. Write at least one chapter/essay as a mash note to New York City. If this can be combined with the shitty job (see #3) all the better. Make sure you refer to New York in ways people who have never been to NY will not understand (e.g. “I lived in the seventies”) but would like to pretend they do. Describe your small and crappy apartment. Extra points if you can work in a 9/11 reference.

7. Be gay.

8. If you can’t be gay, then address both the fact you have chosen your dates/relationships badly (e.g. dated strange, almost psychotic partners) and behaved poorly in other situations (e.g. blown it with the potentially perfect partner). Do not admit to having a healthy romantic relationship unless you catalog your previous poor choices and frame your current relationship within a lens of redemption (e.g. the Jancee Dunn method). Describe at least one sexual encounter gone awry.

9. Reference slightly obscure pop culture as much as possible. Bands, television shows, etc. all work. Your readers will recognize these references and think that if they write about, say, the first time they saw “Twin Peaks” then they too can be successful memoirists/essayists.

10. Include a few drug/alcohol experiences but do not get into sad, “I’m a drug addict" territory. That’s a different type of book (exception: Burrough’s Dry). Don’t forget to frame these experiences as more or less harmless but connected to #s 2, 3, and 8 above when appropriate.

And how does Ms. Crosley acquit herself? Well, she’s sort of like one of those hitters who either roll a grounder to the pitcher or knock it out of the park. The first few essays left me rolling my eyes and wondering if the book was worth finishing. Then, in rapid succession, “You On A Stick” (required reading for every woman who ever dreaded the “will you be my bridesmaid?” request, esp. from someone she doesn’t know very well), “Smell This” (about finding a small bead of poop on your bathroom floor after a dinner party), and “Lay Like Broccoli” (about the author’s return from the vegan desert) rendered the time spent with Ms. Crosley worthwhile. Still, I read I Was Told There’d Be Cake in just a few hours; so borrow the book from a friend or library as I would struggle rationalizing dropping fifteen bucks on such a quick read. I wasn’t wowed by most of the book although a few essays (at least by comparison to the bad ones) shined through as worthwhile. Pretty good, but didn’t rock my socks. Maybe next time.

(P.S. The author’s back cover pic is hawt.)
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10/10/2008 page 10
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Any good?

RandomAnthony Not too impressed so far. I should finish within a day or two...already have the review forming in my head...

message 3: by Kim (new)

Kim crosses off 'to-read' list

message 4: by Amanda (new)

Amanda You have to give them the glimmer of hope that they, too, will be someday interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”.

I feel this way every day of my life...

message 5: by Jessica (last edited Oct 13, 2008 10:10AM) (new)

Jessica When this book came out, I was awed by its fabulous title, but the subject sounded (to me) mind-numbingly dull. I do often wonder why this genre continues to be published and read.... and your review went a long way towards explaining that. So thanks!

message 6: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle I'm also removing this from my "to read" shelf. Good title though. What a disappointment.

RandomAnthony Thanks, people...I should be clear, I didn't hate the book, ...a couple of the essays were good. Please don't let my grumpiness interfere with checking out the book if it's your kind of thing:)

Valerie RA: I'm on your reading trail right now! I've been reading this book, The Thirteen Clocks, and I've got Housekeeping coming up...

I agree with you about this book. It's kind of funny, but definitely lacks depth. Seems a little amateurish to me.

message 9: by Shelly (new)

Shelly Well said, RA. Although, in defense of Vowell she's not all about quirk and obscure pop culture references, she's more of a history nerd (to me anyway). But I think you've hit onto something here in that this genre may be getting a bit old.

That is, until my book comes out. Wait til you all discover what a bitch my mom was!

message 10: by Hundeschlitten (new)

Hundeschlitten Well skewered, Tony. I know that you like these folks, but you get to the heart of why there's a lot less to most of these postmodern memoirs than meets the eye. It's a lot like in the 1980's, when the book industry found a way to repackage an indulgent youth culture and sell it to folks as literature. Ellis/McInerney/Janowitz: where are they now, other than in the $1 bargain bin at your local resale shop? I think the same will be said for all of those you referenced above (other than Burroughs, who I don't think fits on the list). This from someone who has a soft spot for Vowell and will probably be going to her reading in Chicago in a couple of weeks, so I'm as susceptible to their marketing stratagems as any. I guess it's OK to get your literature from public radio, but if you ever catch me playing any of the music being hocked on NPR, just shoot me on the spot and put me out of my misery.

RandomAnthony James!

Yeah, it's hard to express, but I do like Sedaris, Vowell, etc. and I really like Klosterman, but the formula is becoming so clear that some of the fun is disappearing. It's like you can see the book publishers saying..."add a little Klosterman...oh, and maybe make it sound kind of like Sex in the City...can you do that and still be hip? Ask the girl in the copy room, the one who goes to clubs at night, she'll know..."

I will shoot you if you start talking like Ira Glass. Consider it a public service.

Sarah Good review. I agree completely. She tries to make her completely normal ordinary upbringing into something worth mining for a book, but most of the chapters would work better as anecdotes told to friends. David Sedaris does it much better.

RandomAnthony Thanks, sir...:)

message 14: by Vic (new) - rated it 1 star

Vic Great title! The book? uh, not so much... Great review!

Aviva Awesome review, and much funnier than 98 percent of the book. :)

RandomAnthony THanks, Vic and Aviva!

message 17: by Rika (new)

Rika excellent, very funny review. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to completely revise my current attempt at a semi-autobiographical comical novel. (sigh)back to the writing board.

RandomAnthony Ha, Rika, no, don't change anything, you'll be a star:)

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Okay, so I found this review and it is astute and hilarious. I'm enjoying the book so far, but after reading this, if I were Miss. Crosley I'd slit my wrists.

therwiterkelly #7, hahaha

message 21: by Bodi (new) - added it

Bodi Spot on. Sounds like Lena Dunham also read your guide before writing her memoir.

message 22: by Neha (new)

Neha So true!. Reading this review was better than a few "funny" memoires I have read!

Nenia *The Flagrant Liberal* Campbell This was hilarious. And yeah, this collection was really bottom-heavy...was surprised at how much better the essays on the end were.

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