Sisterhood Blog

Q&A: Sloane Crosley on 'Chick Lit' and Brisket

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

  • Print
  • Share Share

Thirty-two-year-old writer and humorist Sloane Crosley has published two books of essays on topics ranging from what not to do in the office (bake cookies shaped like the boss) to how to attend an Alaskan wedding (armed with the definition of “scat”; it means “bear feces”). She spoke about her Jewish cred (her grandmother dated actor Zero Mostel), the backhanded compliments given by men to clever women and making readable art out of her life. Crosley’s most recent collection, “How Did You Get This Number” (Riverhead), a compilation of nine satirical essays, is scheduled for release May 3. Listen to the full interview here.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow: As you tell it in the book, how does a nice Jewish girl end up at confession at Notre Dame?

Sloane Crosley: My friend who is Protestant decided that she wanted to [go]. You wait on line long enough for anything, and [you] start thinking, “I kind of want to confess.” My grandmother is going to do triple salchows in her grave because she was hardcore.

Hardcore Jewish?

Oh, Lower East Side, Orchard Street. Dated Zero Mostel for a long time. I ended up spitting out “Je suis un Jew” to the priest. It was pretty embarrassing.

You didn’t grow up religious, but was there a moment when you knew you were Jewish?

If you’re Jewish the way I’m Jewish, you know through food. Maybe that’s a reason I’m a vegetarian now. A lot of brain, tongue, borscht.

How do you take your life and make something readable out of it?

You have to be a good editor and weed out what’s an interesting essay versus an interesting cocktail party story. The Paris story [“Le Paris!”] really was a cocktail party story. I realized I could reframe it in a more meaningful and funny way.

How much time do you need between experiencing something and writing about it with enough distance to create something interesting?

That’s tricky. In “How Did You Get This Number,” there’s an essay about being in seventh grade. It was not written in eighth grade. That was some distance. There’s an essay about seeing something violent happen to a baby bear in Alaska, which was a challenge to make funny what is ostensibly unfunny.

What inspired “How Did You Get This Number”?

With narrative nonfiction, it’s, “How do I portray what happened accurately with the viewpoint I want to express?” [My first collection] “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” did that, but I felt more pressure to be slapsticky funny. [“How Did You Get This Number”] was closer to the kinds of essays that I wanted to write, which are darker, more melancholy and, I think, funnier.

How do you balance funny with dark? Some of your essays have a loneliness to them.

I was going through a difficult time when I wrote these, and you can see it….

There’s a certain point where all the technical tricks in the world won’t help you, and the essays either have that magic in them or they don’t. You know when you’re writing something that’s really good…. And when you’re writing something that’s total crap, you know that, too, but hopefully none of those are in the book.

Is it more difficult to be taken seriously as a humorist, oxymoronic as it sounds, if you’re a woman?

The difficulty is when people seem so self-satisfied complimenting a woman for what they perceive to be a man’s domain. They reveal themselves in the surprise. I’ve had men tell me — and this comes from a kind place — that they like that I’m “quick” or “clever.” All I can think is, a) Who the hell have you been dating? and b) How insulting it would be if I told a man how adorable I find his being clever.

Can women write about love without it being deemed “chick lit”?

It’s tough. It’s a subject that has been trodden on by very talented trodderers throughout the centuries, most of whom are not women. That was part of my fear with writing about it. That last essay [“HDYGTN”] was the hardest thing I’ve ever written, but it’s also something I’m so proud of.

How does turning the people in your life into characters affect your relationship with them?

That’s the big question. I don’t think of turning them into characters any more than I think of myself writing memoir. Yes, the most common vowel is “I,” but they’re humor essays. This is not the story of my life. My parents serve as a lovely checks-and-balances system with each other about the veracity of what happened.

With the people in your life whom you love, with your family…

You assume I love my family.

I’m going out on a limb. Do you say, “I’m writing about you”?

There is a difference between asking for permission and giving someone an ample warning. I’ve always given a warning. You’re borrowing something; you leave a note to say you took it. You give them a galley.

How do you know what’s funny?

How do you know what’s funny?

I laugh.

Exactly. Timing is what’s very difficult. The trick is to know when to let yourself go into craziness and to know when to rein yourself in. If you’re saying, “I’m walking down the street and I saw a pigeon and I imagined all these things about the pigeon,” what’s the good note to end on? Where the pigeon is dressed up as a tranny pigeon? You have to trust in the quirk in your own brain.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sloane Crosley, "How Did You Get This Number, Paris, " Zero Mostel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.