Books: The Recipe for Sloane Crosley’s “Cake”

Sloane Crosley is nice. Oh so nice. She's been praised as "the most popular publicist in New York," a girl who—against all odds—has every "book editor, magazine writer and media blogger in New York" thinking the world of her. "I think I'm in love with Sloane Crosley," a Seattle blogger wrote recently. "She's a very sweet girl," says Joan Didion. All that praise is enough to make any reviewer desperately want to hate the 29-year-old "it" girl. And if that isn't enough, the hype over her new book, a collection of personal essays called "I Was Told There'd Be Cake," certainly is. A Vintage Books publicist, Crosley has charmed her way to a level of press coverage most first-time authors only dream of, and virtually none of it reveals even a hint of criticism. (She also made the New York Times best-seller list last month.) Her name is thrown around in comparison to David Sedaris and Dorothy Parker, and her book's cover is full of praise from many of the authors she's done publicity for. "Charming, elegant, wise, and comedic," touts Jonathan Ames. "Hilarious and affecting," says Colson Whitehead. A "mordant and mercurial wit," writes Jonathan Lethem.

Knowing people sure can go a long way. Crosley's book ain't half bad, but plenty of books as good—and some better—never see the light of day. Crosley's no amateur, of course—she knows that. And she doesn't deny her public relations good luck. "It seems like cheating," she told New York magazine recently. "And by all means, if cheating is promoting other people's work, trying to get people to pay attention to a product that the entire world is slowly losing interest in, then yes, I cheated." So as much as I wanted to hate her—to write her off as just that, a cheat—the book is actually a fun and entertaining read. The stories are whimsically funny tales of life in New York: adolescence in Westchester with parents who were constantly afraid their house was going to burn down, young ideals crushed by the high-heeled editors of women's magazines, pothead ex-boyfriends, childhood obsessions, a volunteer project gone wrong.

One essay, "Bring Your Machete to Work Day," recounts her middle school love for Oregon Trail, the early-'90s game that gave the awkward teen a certain power she did not possess in real life. "I would load up the wagon with people I loathed, like my math teacher. Then I would intentionally lose the game, starving her or fording a river with her when I knew she was weak." Another, "The Ursula Cookie," is the nightmarish story of a first real job. It leads Crosley to bake in an attempt to relieve stress, and, unable to do so, she makes a cookie in the shape of the lady dictator herself—and gives it to her. "Ursula held the cookie by the corner of its Ziploc bag … In her tight pinch it looked like a piece of crime scene evidence," she writes.

Crosley's tales are honest and casual; they read like a wall posts on Facebook or a very long voice-mail message on a best friend's cell. Which makes sense—and also makes them good. Her first essay, "F--- You, Columbus," about locking herself out of two Manhattan apartments in one day, began as an e-mail she sent to a group of friends. A Village Voice editor happened to be on that list (connections, people!), and he worked with her to get the essay—and many others—in print. "Before that, I had only written longer fiction, and suddenly I found myself enamored with the other side," she writes on her Web site.

Crosley is also charmingly self-deprecating. She confesses to being named after a character in a Charlton Heston movie and admits to an odd obsession—and even odder collection—of plastic My Little Pony toys she keeps stored in a drawer in her kitchen. (She later ditches them on a downtown subway.) At times she's bitchy, but in a way that every young woman can relate to. She doesn't want her boyfriend using her expensive shea butter shampoo (seriously!) and, after a tale of bridesmaid horrors, takes delight in realizing the bride's new initials are F.U. (Ha!)

She's no Sedaris yet, but she strikes a chord, particularly among twentysomethings living in New York. And for those of us who'd love to hate her, maybe we should follow her lead. PR sure is a good way to sell a book.

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