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Review: I Was Told There'd Be Cake

i was told thered be cakeI Was Told There’d Be Cake is the debut essay collection by twentysomething Sloane Crosley.  The book covers topics as wide-ranging as Crosley’s first job to a terrifying boss to Crosley awkwardly serving as maid-of-honor for a high school friend she hadn’t spoken to in years.

Although various reviewers have called Crosley “a new master of nonfiction situational comedy” and the book a “welcome departure from the increasingly tired genre of first-person prose as stand-up comedy,” I can’t agree because I didn’t like the book.

After my initial reading of the book, I just felt sort of meh about it.  I didn’t really love it, but I didn’t really hate it either. It’s sort of the same feeling I get after finishing a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar — it was sort of tasty, but I wish I’d splurged for some Godiva dark chocolate instead.

It took me until my walk to class the next morning to actually dislike the book. As I was thinking about how to write my “meh” review, I went over all the reasons why I wanted the book in the first place.  In so many ways, I should have thought this book was awesome. It’s essays, it’s by a twentysomething woman, it’s about learning to be an adult, it’s a little goofy… the whole collection is made up of things I love, what was the problem?

One huge problem, I think, is that I didn’t connect with Crosley. When you write an essay collection about yourself, a huge part of the reader’s experience is whether they connect with you.  I just didn’t connect;  all of Crosley’s essays felt like the kind of stories that you tell your college friends just to prove how cool you are, not essays that illuminate some tiny part of the human experience and that are good enough to be shared outside the circle of friends that know you. There wasn’t much I could grasp on to which made most of the collection seem self-indulgent.

I’m not against self-indulgent essayists. I’m a big fan of David Sedaris,, and a lot of his writing smacks of self-indulgence. In fact, one could argue that all essayists suffer from a bit of this; you have to think pretty highly of yourself to believe that your stories and anecdotes are going to be interesting for other people to read. The different between Crosley and Sedaris is that Sedaris’s essays, while self-indulgent, also reward the reader with some universal statement or bite-sized piece of relateability. Crosley never does that effectively, and the moments when she tries to feel awkward and forced.

This ties directly back to my essay discussion yesterday — good essays provide some sort of recognition or revelation. I didn’t recognize much about myself in most of Crosley’s essays, nor did she give me much of a revelation on anything. Even her essay about struggling to be a bridesmaid, something I myself did just about two years ago, didn’t ring at all true with me because Crosley’s whole attitude just put me off.

I could go on and on about this, but I don’t want my review to get too far of the tracks or too mean. f you like essay collections that are sort of funny but mostly fluff, then I think you’d like I Was Told There’d Be Cake. But if you expect your books to have a little more substance, I’d skip this collection all together.

There are many other bloggers with opinions on this book — check out what some of them think: Tripping Towards Lucidity; Reading Reflections; Necromancy Never Pays;

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I Heart Monster April 21, 2009, 5:20 pm

    I’d have to agree with the meh sentiment. I read all kinds of praise for the book when it was coming out, so I preordered it. I specifically hated it when she compared all of the men in her life to one of the toy ponies she had. It was just weird. I think she is a decent writer, but I didn’t like the content of what she wrote or the spirit in which she wrote it.

  • Heather April 21, 2009, 5:30 pm

    I haven’t read this one, but I do sympathize with you. I hate when a book doesn’t live up to my expectations, especially if it’s somewhat popular by others. I’m always like, “ok, why didn’t I like it when others did, or when I really thought I would like it?”.

    If you like essay collections like this, you may like Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, which I personally only thought was OK but I have seen lots of other people rave about it. You may want to check it out. 🙂

  • bermudaonion April 21, 2009, 6:53 pm

    I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you. The premise holds lots of promise, but if the writing doesn’t deliver, it doesn’t really matter.

  • J.S. Peyton April 21, 2009, 7:55 pm

    I read this book a few months ago and felt exactly the same way. The blurb on the back of the book promises funny and introspective essays. While I found a couple of the essays kinda funny, I didn’t find them at all introspective, which was very disappointing. I wrote a review about this book when I read it and someone commented saying that her stories were the kind that you’d tell your friends at a bar over drinks – nothing you want to have a whole book of though.

    A couple of months later I read a collection of essays “Learning to Drive” by Katha Pollitt, who is almost in her sixties and I found everything she had to say relatable, introspective, and funny. I guess it just goes to show that good writing is good writing. 🙂

    I’d really recommend “Learning to Drive,” by the way. After “IWTTBC,” it was a welcome relief.

  • Rebachin April 21, 2009, 8:52 pm

    I value your perspective on essays mentioned here. I’ve never been an essay reader and I just picked up Sedaris’s “Flames” in order to try the genre out.
    I’m curious to see if your perspective rings true for me as well.

  • Jeanne April 21, 2009, 9:28 pm

    I agree with you about this book, especially about the self-indulgence not having any kind of universal aspect (I also love Sedaris). And I reviewed it here:

  • Steph April 22, 2009, 10:50 am

    I had been going back and forth about this one for a while. I haven’t read it, but as you said, it got a lot of initial hype and it seemed like it could be a fun read. But more of the reviews I’ve been reading in the book community have been pretty lackluster regarding it, and it has made me think this is not something I would enjoy. I thought that even though your review panned this collection, it was very thoughtful and made clear what you didn’t enjoy and why. It made me realize that I would be bothered by the same things you mentioned and I feel comfortable in my decision to skip this one!

  • Karen April 25, 2009, 6:17 am

    I completely agree with you about this one. I was reading some great reviews about it and when I finally went out and bought it and started to read it I felt very let down! I thought the writing just felt very forced – like the author was trying to drag a laugh out of us but the moment wasn’t really there (does that make sense??). Like you – I wanted to like it and support a young and upcoming female author but I have to admit I couldn’t even finish the book.