How Did You Get This Number by Slone Crosley

If I was to follow Slone Crosley’s rules*, I’d have been to Kilwa Kivinje in Tanzania.

Crossley’s essay collection, How Did You Get This Number, opens with a piece about her visit to Lisbon. At age 30, she decided that she ought to fulfil a preteen promise to herself, ‘…that one day I would spin [a globe] and point and travel wherever my finger landed.”

Okay, I’ll wait while you rush off to spin a globe and see where you land. I know you want to. Please report your result.

The nine essays in the collection chronicle moments from Crosley’s childhood, living in New York and her travels. A short essay on stinking taxis (that’s a universal complaint, right?), and longer pieces on trips to Alaska and Paris stand out. Paris, she observes, is a place ‘…filled with the highest percentage of women on the planet able to pull off chinchilla wraps with jeans’.

That observation struck a chord because recently I said to a friend that my very lovely expensive and impractical silver sequinned skirt would get more wear if only I was the sort of person who could pull off the ‘sequin skirt and denim jacket’ look. My friend sighed (a sign of heated agreement that either I couldn’t pull off that look or that she too would like to pull off that look but like me, couldn’t/wouldn’t).

As with any collection, one essay shines. In this case, it’s If You Sprinkle, Crosley’s account of her relationship with Zooey, the primary school queen bee. It opens with the girls playing a board game called Girl Talk, “…an early-’90s version of truth-or-dare, designed to sanction prepubescent cruelty via laminated cardboard”. Players’ futures were predicted according to four categories: marriage, children, career and ‘special moments’. Crosley notes that even as kids “…we recognised the dated presumption that all our special moments would have to be found outside the coloured wedges of Marriage or Career. Nope, no joy there. Cue the visual of grown up Girl Talk players, seeking out their ‘special moments’ by going on shopping sprees beyond their means, binge-eating their children’s Easter candy…”.

Girl Talk serves as an apt introduction to what is a story about Zooey’s deliberate exclusion of the new girl at school (Rachel), and Crosley’s role in that.

Looking back, I can’t decide which makes me cringe more – that I avoided speaking to Rachel Hermann about her home life or that I participated in a game that predicted the number of babies I would one day expel from my body as dictated by the first digit of my area code. That would be nine. Who wrote this shit? Mormons?

Spoiler alert, it’s being mean to Rachel that makes Crosley cringe more, and her soul-baring is what gives the story (and others in the collection) traction.

Even as an adult, I am still looking for ways for her [Rachel] to win that fight. How can we not still be rooting for the younger versions of ourselves as if they actually exist, playing catch-up in time?

Crosley’s writing is fun to read. She is criticised for being a whiney Millennial, focused on first-world-problems. That may be true, although I couldn’t find any evidence from her claiming that she’s not that. So readers, if you don’t want to read about Millennial first-world-problems, don’t. If however, you feel like some light reading, that may not be of your era but resonates nonetheless (what school didn’t have a queen bee? Who hasn’t replayed confrontations in their mind a million times over, thinking ‘I should have said…’), then I can recommend How Did You Get This Number.

3/5 Solid collection.

One of the old men tore himself away from the game to bring me a bar menu. I ordered a basket of fried pierogi filled with shrimp and cream cheese. I took one bite and stared at the TV for two more matches.

*‘No travelling to places that would deplete my life savings getting there; no war zones; no places I’d been before; no ocean; no places so romantic they would depress the foie gras out of me.’ Seems Kilwa Kivinje fits the bill.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 27): Belfast 9°-24° and Melbourne 7°-18°.


5 responses

    • It’s fun. Probably her other collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, is better but both have the same combo of elements – terrific pop-culture references, some self reflection, and subtle wit.

  1. My son has spun the globe and secured a teaching job in Malawi (4 euros a day!), that’s enough excitement for me. I could read this, I have all sorts of secret vices in my audiobook reading, you can’t consume social realism all the time.

  2. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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