A comedy routine in print

Here’s a book written to make you laugh. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes with a big smile. How Did You Get This Number is the second collection of essays from the 30-something New Yorker Sloane Crosley proving she’s the real thing: a writer who sees life in all its hilarity, even when it’s painful. 

Some essays are funnier than others, which isn’t a problem. The up and down on the humor meter is as acceptable here as it is in a comedian’s routine, where some jokes are hilarious and others amusing.  Also much like comedy routines, the best humor is in the essays where Crosley writes emotionally close to home. So the essays about the smelly New York cabs or New York apartments she lived in post-college or her childhood pets fall into the amusing category compared to the story behind her terrible sense of direction, a condition beyond a quirky personality trait. Crosley is diagnosed with temporal-spatial deficit, a right-left brain discrepancy that gives her zero spatial relations skills — she can’t read maps, play cards or tell time on an analog clock. Aptly titled “Lost in Space,” the essay falls into the laugh-out-loud category as she explains what it’s like to have the village idiot camped out in half her brain.

“Off the Back of a Truck” stands out by far as the best among the nine essays, a reflection on a year of spending too much on things and people she couldn’t afford. Blinded by romantic hope, Crosley mortgages logic for a boyfriend she doesn’t trust. She simultaneously mortgages logic for expensive Fifth Avenue home furnishings way out of her league. They become in her league thanks to a burly guy named Daryl who steals from the warehouse and offers them at much reduced prices.  “Some people have coke guys. I had an upholstery guy,” Crosley writes. One of the longest essays, it’s the most revealing and Crosley at her funniest.

The essays take place in New York, Lisbon, Paris and Anchorage, Alaska. They are for the most part about Crosley’s young adult struggles from socializing with Portuguese clowns in Lisbon to reconciling  with her middle-school nemesis, Zooey Ellis. As much as they are funny, the essays reach out to say more. In “Lost in Space” she writes, “I grew up watching TV with my mother while she diagnosed the characters as having hyperactivity or attention-deficit disorder. I rolled my eyes and wondered why there weren’t any stupid kids anymore. Why did there have to be something to explain everyone?  Were the cave people on Ritalin? I didn’t think so.”

Crosley’s first collection of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. This new collection of essays is right up there in prize-calibre territory. Sloane Crosley, or Solange, as the burly guy named Daryl called her, is too funny to miss.