Monday, September 26, 2005

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal may claim that she has led an ordinary nothing-spectacular-kind-of-life, but she has an extraordinary drive to write and comment on her experiences and observations. She has been hawking her compositions to publications like Might, Parenting, Utne Reader, and the Chicago Tribune for the last eight or so years, and she has been a commentator for WBEZ radio in Chicago during part of that time. She started a zine/newspaper called Oyster and a CD-based audio magazine called Writer’s Block Party, both of which were loved by a few and ignored by many. She has written several books, including The Mother’s Guide to the Meaning of Life: What I’ve Learned in a Never-Ending Quest to Become a Dalai Mama, the humorous The Book of Eleven: An Itemized Collection of Brain Lint, and the children’s book Little Pea. The author has also been raising three children and managing a husband. I imagine that her fingers are always on her laptop.

Her latest effort is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which has a subscript “Volume One.” I suspect that she could easily put out a second volume; she probably has an extra disc drive to attach to her laptop loaded with her stories and comments. I hope she gets a call from a publisher saying “Do it!” Reading her book is a lot of fun.

Why will readers enjoy this book? They will identify with her. Too much analyzing will spoil the humor, but let me say that I found myself nodding my head in agreement with her comments often. Like Rosenthal, I want to know what happens when movies end; I agree that chain-letters are a total waste of time; I feel better when we use up the groceries that are filling our refrigerator; I too try to cross a street quickly when there is a car waiting. Like the author I usually prefer reading nonfiction to fiction. I also differ from the author: I do not enjoy sleeping late; I don’t drink coffee or read many magazines, staples in the author’s life; I would never leave money in public places as a social experiment.

What kind of book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life? The Library of Congress and many other libraries seem to agree that it is a biography. Granted, there are details of the author’s life in the chronology section and some tragedies are listed in the entry “Lows,” but the items only outline her life. A case could be made that the alphabetically arranged entries work together to build a profile of the mind of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Still, if it is a biography, it is very unconventional. The author claims that it is a harvest of details from an ordinary life, which could be the reader’s life as much as hers, but the reader may notice there are some surprising stories. This may be her point: even ordinary lives are filled with wonder, drama, and heartache.

Being the hip person she is, Rosenthal has a companion website to go with her book. Visit and leave a Purple Flower Moment or a Moon Description, if you are so inclined.

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1400080452

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