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Originally published Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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"I Was Told There'd Be Cake": Savvy, funny musings of a 20-something

Sloane Crosley's first book is about nothing. To be more precise, the book is about the author doing everyday, unexciting things. Like dating dating. Or...

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Sloane Crosley

Crosley will discuss "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com). Also at 8 p.m. Thursday at Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

Sloane Crosley's first book is about nothing.

To be more precise, the book is about the author doing everyday, unexciting things. Like dating. Or baking. Or playing on her computer. Bored yet? You shouldn't be. Because against all odds, this book about nothing is riveting to the very end.

Maybe it's because Crosley, a 20-something New York City girl, is just like us. She grew up in a middle-class, middle-income family in the plain vanilla suburbs. She struggled with junior high school, wished for boobs, went to college, had some internships and a series of disappointing boyfriends, and eventually became a middle-class, middle-income adult. "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" (Riverhead, 228 pp., $14), a series of 15 humorous essays, is not going to introduce you to any groundbreaking ideas, but it'll have you laughing, nodding and saying, "That's just so true."

Part of Crosley's charm is her willingness to skewer herself for a joke. In one essay, "Sign Language for Infidels," she paints herself as a hard-boiled New Yorker, for whom the concept "do unto others," "had slid off me like water off an oil-slicked baby seal's back," she writes. But her relentless self-deprecation is balanced by her own winking sense of humility. The essay ends when she is caught committing an act of kindness, and then sneaking away before anyone catches her doing it.

In another essay, "You On a Stick," a high-school friend asks Crosley to be her bridesmaid. Instead of the expected prime-time-television reaction — excitement, tearful squealing — Crosley reacts much in the same way most real women in their 20s react: She thinks, oh no, this is going to be expensive. But she agrees anyway because, in her words, "barring exorbitant plane fare or typhus, you can't not agree." What ensues in this essay is a heartbreaking and riotous account of Crosley's experience serving as a bridesmaid to a girl she hardly knows and definitely doesn't like, whose new initials after the wedding will become "F.U."

While some parts of Crosley's book are sure to appeal to anyone who's survived their 20s, most of the essays will resonate best with women younger than 35. Crosley's topics of choice range from kitschy girls' summer camp in the late '80s to computer games in the early '90s, and through all of it, she unapologetically addresses the in-crowd. You either know exactly what she's talking about — and then it's hi-larious — or you're left standing on the shadier side of an inside joke. In one essay, Crosley writes that a certain girl "looked cooler than Jem and her Holograms." If you don't know what that means, she's not slowing down long enough to drag you on board.

In that same vein, in an essay called "Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work Day," Crosley masterfully re-creates the Millennial generation's coltish obsession with the computer game "Oregon Trail," which most of us played in our middle-school computer labs, back when the Web was still something we associated with a spider named Charlotte. When playing "Oregon Trail," Crosley would name one of her characters after her algebra teacher, who she "loathed," she writes. "Then I would intentionally lose the game, starving her or fording a river with her when I knew she was weak ... Eventually a message would pop up in the middle of the screen, framed in a neat box: Mrs. Ross has died of dysentery. This filled me with glee."

Crosley's tone and style definitely take a page out of humor-writer David Sedaris' book. She's ironic, droll and self-pillorying and, like Sedaris, she manages to balance passages that are laugh-out-loud funny with others that are both touching and resonant. Above all Crosley manages, Midas-like, to take the minutiae of her life — and all of our lives — and turn it into gold.

Haley Edwards is a Seattle Times news reporter.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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