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Humorist Sloane Crosley's Got Your 'Number'

Have you ever, in the depths of a lingering malaise, thought of spinning a globe, pointing at random, and buying a plane ticket? Plenty of people spin and point, but buying that ticket takes some serious commitment.

Sloane Crosley actually followed through, though it took two tries. "The first time I did it, I pointed to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean," she tells NPR's Liane Hansen. "And I thought, well, no one's here to see me cheat" ... and spun the globe again.

On her second spin, she touched down on Lisbon, Portugal, and she packed her bags. It wasn't an easy trip -- at times, she felt like the only American tourist in the entire country -- but now, she reflects on her travels happily.

How Did You Get This Number is Crosley's new collection of essays about her misadventures as a fish-out-of-water. Crosley's first collection, I Was Told There'd Be Cake focused on life in New York, but for her latest work, she ventured further afield.

On a trip to Paris with her friend Emily, Crosley visited a number of cathedrals. The highlight was Notre Dame. Together, they waited in line for confession at the iconic cathedral. Crosley, who's Jewish, had always thought that confession would be just like it appears in the movies.

"You know ... you go into a sort of small little velvet phone booth," she says, "And you give up everything you have, and you're hopefully absolved. And then that's that."

But it wasn't quite that simple. First of all, Crosley didn't know where to start the confession: With your first morning cigarette, or "the time you stole a package of sparkly pipe cleaners from your second grade art class, and kept them in the bottom of your closet for two years, eventually throwing them out because you felt so guilty?"

Once you've settled on a confession -- which Crosley eventually did -- you have to make a clean getaway. Crosley didn't quite manage that. As she and Emily tried to leave Notre Dame, they accidentally knocked over some votive candles and were asked not to return.

The last piece in Crosley's collection, "Off the Back of a Truck," approaches novella territory, clocking in at about 13,000 words. Though she's always wanted to write fiction, for now, Crosley says she's sticking with the essay format.

"A little bit of the work is done for you," she says. "That's the dirty secret of nonfiction. You have 15 percent of the world to work off, and then you do the rest. You don't have to create everything from whole cloth."

Essays also have the added benefit of brevity. "The idea that you can stop" is very attractive, Crosley says. "That you can write an essay, and move onto a different thought, and take that thought to its completion without actually having to constantly check back in with it is kind of a relief."

What's more, Crosley admits, "it's easier to be funny in a shorter format."

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