[dl] Books

Sometimes sassy, sometimes sweet and always hilarious, Sloane Crosley impresses with her second book, How Did You Get This Number.

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SLOANE CROSLEY IS A ONE-WOMAN GENRE. Her two books — the 2008 New York Times best-seller I Was Told There’d Be Cake (which has since been optioned by HBO) and her latest, How Did You Get This Number (Riverhead Books, $25) — simply defy classification. For convenience’s sake, readers will find both essay collections shelved in the humor section of their local bookstore. But when we caught up with Crosley recently, she admitted, “I wish there were subsections on the bookstore shelves. I’d like to think my writing falls somewhere between ‘funny/sad’ and ‘we laugh because it’s true.’ ”

Crosley’s essays are original in both content and style. In fact, their style is so inventive that they probably wouldn’t get past your high school English teacher: They don’t have a traditional structure; there’s no thesis sentence that is borne out by the end. Instead, like a slightly less-focused David Sedaris, Crosley meanders across a wide terrain, only to tie together her thoughts in ways the reader never saw coming. Much of the joy in her work comes from the quirky insights and surprising connections she draws, not to mention the misplaced confidence with which she makes statements like, “Any word over ten letters in English is the same word in French. Fact.”

But there’s a sweetness to the humor as well. The 31-year-old Crosley (who has yet to quit her day job as a book publicist, though she takes pains, she says, to “keep things church and state when promoting my authors”) is never mean-spirited or snarky. She reels off one-liner after one-liner, and they inspire laughter on impact. If there’s such a thing as nostalgia for the present, Crosley nails it, whether she’s writing about visiting Lisbon, Portugal (a city designed for “nights that make your top-ten lists: Top Ten Drunkest. Top Ten Wildest. Top Ten Involving Grain Alcohol, a Leotard and a Spider Monkey”), or about confessing to a French priest whose English skills are lacking (“I had been a zygote the last time this priest had uttered a coherent string of English, which he explained to me in words that were not only broken but utterly shattered”). In the essay “Lost in Space,” in which she details her inability to read a map, Crosley sighs, “Things were better during my genius years.” Those years would be the ones before she spoke, when her mother was impressed with her block-building skills.

Though it seems Crosley has had more than her fair share of wacky moments, she swears she doesn’t go in search of material. As she observed to us, “If you go into an experience thinking you’re going to milk the ‘ha-ha’ out of it, you wind up having a mediocre time. That’s actually true of anything, not just writing.”

And though she asserts that every anecdote contained in her books — no matter how bizarre — has actually happened, she acknowledges that the mind is an imperfect record keeper. “The moment you start writing, you’re not telling the absolute 100 percent truth,” she said. “It’s impossible. Memories are subject to impression, and even if you get that right, you’re subject to the limitations of your own skill. So if you could find a guy with a photographic memory who writes like Shakespeare, that guy would be the best writer in the universe. Though he probably wouldn’t be very funny.”