How do you conjure a life examined? Give the truest account of what you saw, felt, learned, loved, strived for?
For Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the surprising answer came in the form of an encyclopedia. In Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life she has ingeniously adapted this centuries-old format for conveying knowledge into a poignant, wise, often funny, fully realized memoir. Using mostly short entries organized from A to Z, many of which are cross-referenced, Rosenthal captures in wonderful and episodic detail the moments, observations, and emotions that comprise a contemporary life. Start anywhere—preferably at the beginning—and see how one young woman’s alphabetized existence can open up and define the world in new and unexpected ways.
An ordinary life, perhaps, but an extraordinary book.
Rosenthal likes lists: of low points in her life, codes that people memorize, sounds that seem loud though they're actually quiet. She loves inadvertently mysterious signs, like this public restroom gem: " PLEASE DO NOT FLUSH EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF TOILET PAPER OR SHOES DOWN THE TOILET. THANK YOU." She's collected some wonderful words like "flahoolick"(meaning generous and expansive) and "wabi-sabi" (which seamlessly fuses two moods), as well as some pairs of oddly similar words like applause and applesauce. But what to do with all this trivia? Why, frame it all around some lists of childhood memories and career milestones, alphabetize it and voil she's assembled something like a memoir. Rosenthal warns readers that her life has not been extraordinary in the least she hasn't "survived against all odds," recovered from any addictions or been a genius, misunderstood or otherwise. Not only does she consider her life "ordinary" (actually, she's worked for ad agencies, written a few books and worked for several public radio stations), but her preoccupations are with the entirely mundane: breaking appliances, leaving messages on answering machines, loading dishwashers, loving Q-tips. Browse this "encyclopedia" in any bookstore, and it looks too cute to resist, especially with its coy, reference book type illustrations. Whether it remains endearing once it's home depends on how fascinating people find someone else's somewhat ordinary life.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
I enjoyed this refreshing perspective on our ordinary lives and the author's ability to bring a sense of gratitude for the commonplace.
There was much I related to, much that made me smile, and much to appreciate about this interesting format for documenting a life.
I would love to catch up with Amy in her 80's and see what she would update!
Admirer of Amy
I was generous in giving this book three stars because its author recently passed away. Although certain passages merit five stars, the book is quite rushed. I only bought it because I missed Amy and was so impressed by her NY Times article about her husband, that I wanted to read more to get to know her better. But unfortunately, this book had a deadline. That means Amy was not allowed the space to be her truly creative self. I can forgive the typos I found in the book, but not the overall sense of haste in the creation of this "lite" read. Still, it does capture some of Amy's spiritual, yet funky personality. It captures her moods, introspection, quirkiness, sense of humor and awareness of human frailty. And from that perspective, it became a worthwhile read. Still, I wish Amy would have been given more time from her publisher. But then again, I wish Amy would have been given more time from God. May she Rest In Peace.