ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AN ORDINARY LIFE
Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Author, Jeffrey Middleton, Illustrator . Crown $23 (220p) ISBN 978-1-4000-8045-8
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—voilà—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)
Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-84354-706-8
Paperback - 225 pages - 978-1-4000-8046-5
Open Ebook - 177 pages - 978-0-307-42065-7
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From the author of the viral Modern Love column, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.”
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 woman’s 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 d’Alba 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 it’s like the extra credit part of a test—it only enhances an already solid grade. Getting it right won’t help if most everything else is wrong. And getting it wrong won’t hurt if most everything else is right. (There are countless books I cherish whose covers I don’t 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. I’ll do my best to extract the author’s entire existence from their 2-X-2 inch photo.
Off to the back cover. I’ll be momentarily impressed when I see a blurb by a hot writer like ____, but I know that it is just as likely that I’ll like the book as hate it regardless of these quotes. I look at them in a more voyeuristic way, like a literary gaper’s 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. I’ll glance at the first couple pages, then flip to the middle, see if the language matches me somehow. It’s like dating, only with sentences. Some sentences, no matter how well-dressed or nice, just don’t do it for me. Others I click with instantly. It could be something as simple yet weirdly potent as a single word choice (tangerine). We’re meant to be, that sentence and me. And when it happens, you just know.