Synopses & Reviews
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In Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal has ingeniously adapted the centuries-old format of the encyclopedia to convey the accumulated knowledge of her lifetime in 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 womans alphabetized existence can open up and define the world in new and unexpected ways.
An ordinary life, perhaps, but an extraordinary book.
Cross-section of ordinary life at this exact moment
A security guard is loosening his belt.
A couple is at a sushi restaurant with some old friends. They are reminiscing. In the back of their minds, they are thinking of being home.
A woman is trying to suck on a cherry Lifesaver but will end up biting it in six seconds.
A little boy is riding the train home with his dad after spending the day together at his office.
A man is running back into a grocery store to look for a scarf he dropped. He will leave with the phone number of a woman who will become his wife.
Words the author meant to use
Flair, Luxurious, Panoply, Churlish, Dainty, Folly
Wines that go nicely with this book
reds: Marcel Lapierre Morgon (France), Alario Dolcetto dAlba Costa Fiore (Italy)
whites: King Estate Pinot Gris (Oregon), Landmark Chardonnay Overlook (California)
Book, standing in the bookstore holding a
If I am standing there with the book in my hand, one of three things has already happened: Friend recommended it. Read a good review. Cover caught my eye.
I can appreciate a cool cover. But its like the extra credit part of a test—it only enhances an already solid grade. Getting it right wont help if most everything else is wrong. And getting it wrong wont hurt if most everything else is right. (There are countless books I cherish whose covers I dont like too much, or cannot even now recall.) The interior of the book—the terrain of its pages, where all those words took me, the tiny but very real spot it ultimately occupies in my mind—that becomes the book.
Next I go to the flaps. The front flap needs to intrigue/not bore me, and the bio needs to tell me just enough about the author. Ill do my best to extract the authors entire existence from their 2-X-2 inch photo.
Off to the back cover. Ill be momentarily impressed when I see a blurb by a hot writer like ____, but I know that it is just as likely that Ill like the book as hate it regardless of these quotes. I look at them in a more voyeuristic way, like a literary gapers delay: Wow, the author knows So and So. Bet they send each other clever text messages. Really the only thing I can gauge from the blurbs is my own pathetic jealousy level.
To get a true sense of the book, I have to spend a minute inside. Ill glance at the first couple pages, then flip to the middle, see if the language matches me somehow. Its like dating, only with sentences. Some sentences, no matter how well-dressed or nice, just dont do it for me. Others I click with instantly. It could be something as simple yet weirdly potent as a single word choice (tangerine). Were meant to be, that sentence and me. And when it happens, you just know.
"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.
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.
About the Author
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is, alphabetically, an author of adult and childrens 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