"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Blind Date with a New York Gal

It's not what you think. I sooooo wish this blog post is what you might think after reading that headline. But it is not. For the second time in my perennial bachelorhood, the Marian Librarians of Chelsea Public Library have taken pity on my solitude and set me up with an engaging fountain of intellect. Move over, Innocence. May I buy you a drink, Experience?

For those of you who haven't read about my previous library blind date, you can do so via this post. I'm not trying to entice you to delve further into my blog. Suffice it to say that post is far more sexual...also mingled with violence and...no, I did not read 50 Shades of Grey.

This is how a library blind date works. The library set up a display of books covered in brown paper, with short phrases hinting at what the book was about. I was not allowed to open the book until after I checked the book out from an authorized Marian...I mean librarian. Sight unseen I committed to paying a late fee if the date went badly--or rather, if the date went really well.

As you can see above, I chose a book that promised to center on "humorous essays," "world travel," and a "catalog of house pets." Like other blind dates, I chose to be optimistic and take a chance. I tried to imagine what my date would look like and talk like. I asked myself, "Do I really want to go through with this?"

I ended up spending several evenings with Sloane Crosley, a New York-based author who wrote How Did You Get This Number. I was hoping for a quick read, because I have a backlog of other books that I need to read, including a monthly book club selection. A book of essays sounded accessible.

How did it go? Pretty well! I rated this book four out of five stars on Goodreads.com. My review follows:

How Did You Get This NumberHow Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would recommend How Did You Get This Number to people looking for good non-fiction, essays in particular. If you have a New York City obsession, this is a book by a New Yorker. Most importantly, it is a book I likely would have never tried otherwise. No offense to Ms. Crosley, but she was not on my radar. Nothing personal. Just LOTS of authors out there. The radar is crowded. But my local library set me up with this book on a literary blind date, so...

As with books by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, here I found myself reading long-form reflections by someone who is from my generation. At one point, Crosley says, "I was a child of the '80s but a teenager of the '90s." I have often described myself the exact same way.

This blind date wasn't perfect. At their best, essay books are a fascinating chance to explore someone else's mind, to experience the joy of another person's notions resonating with your own. In such moments, a book makes you feel less alone. At their worst, such books become an excruciating one-sided conversation. At various times in this date, I experienced both extremes.

Crosley is an astute observer of the world--able to encapsulate her experience in meaningful, often playful, prose. Her zingers and witticisms are hit and miss. Her sense of humor did not always jive with my own. Although, perhaps I shouldn't chalk that up to a flaw. She is capable of great twists, sending you in one meaningful direction so she can suddenly yank you in another. That is good essay writing to me.

Still, during her chapter about visiting France, what started out intriguing eventually dragged on too long. Have you ever been at the table with someone very much in to what they are rambling on about? You wish you could be as in to it as are they. But you know what? I have never been to France. I might never go. Keeping with the blind date metaphor, during the Paris chapter I had this inner-dialogue while reading: "Right now this night is all about you. And if it does not become about us pretty soon I probably won't ask you out a second time."

In her last essay, Crosley hits a home run. My notions of New York City have reached toxic levels of dreaminess under the influence of a certain sitcom which for eight full years remained motherless. Crosley took me deep into her New York experience, including a disastrous relationship. I believed in her Big Apple by the end, full of dreams and downfalls, but very much a place where powerful connections can happen.

So the date went well. I don't know that we will see each other again, but the time was not wasted. We should all find ourselves out with someone different, who challenges us more than they charm us. Thank you Sloane. And thank you to my library for fixing me up once again.

View all my reviews

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