Synopses & Reviews
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
is a memoir in the form an encyclopedia, a collection of entries organized from Amy-Ziggy, that muses on the stuff of daily life, both trivial and essential. It's a book that breaks all the conventions of traditional memoir and is ultimately driven by that element that all good readers crave: voice.
Amy Rosenthal's great accomplishment is the narrative thread that develops across the alphabetical landscape the book presents, so the reader gets a full and rich sense of one woman's life ordinary, perhaps, but extraordinary in the sense that her observations are so dead-on and universal. The alphabetical organization feels random at first but soon develops a sense of narrative flow, and it turns out that this unusual literary device enables a reader to discover the meaning of things in a way that feels natural and has quiet power. The broken quality of the narrative has a particularly contemporary feel, and so 21st Century readers, by now well accustomed to the world of interruption we all inhabit, will find it oddly familiar and comfortable. And extremely effective as a means for revealing a life.
A most unusual and wonderful book: a memoir in the form of an encyclopedia, a kind of Schott's Miscellany for the human condition, beautifully, poignantly, and often quite humorously written by a young writer and NPR contributor. It provides a unique view of life at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.
"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 voilá 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. Agent, Amy Rennert. (On sale Jan. 25)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Immensely readable and frequently hilarious... Rosenthal documents with considerable wit experiences we all have but never think twice about... But what's most delightful is that there's a real story here--readers will find themselves connecting the dots through the entries, slowly uncovering more and more about Amy's life." Leon Wagner, Booklist
This collection of entries muses on the stuff of daily life, both trivial and essential. Readers get a full and rich sense of one woman's life ordinary, perhaps, but extraordinary in the sense that her observations are so dead-on and universal.
About the Author
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is, alphabetically, an author of adult and children’s books; contributor to magazines and NPR; host of the literary and music variety show Writers’ Block Party; and mother of some kids. She lives in Chicago.
Review A Day
"Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
....[is] a charming and witty picture of how we live now. It is organized around the compelling personality of Rosenthal herself, who reveals the minute discomforts and satisfactions of her emotional life, and dwells, as promised, on a minimum of tragedy, meanness, or pain." Anna Godbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review