Thursday, February 19, 2009

Memoir Review: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Anytime I have happened to come across Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s writing (often in her past columns in Parenting magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office), I have always ended up laughing out loud, so when I heard that she’d written a memoir, I knew I’d enjoy it.
“I was not abused, abandoned, or locked up as a child. My parents were not alcoholics, nor were they ever divorced or dead. We did not live in poverty, or in misery, or in an exotic country. I am not a misunderstood genius, a former child celebrity, or the child of a celebrity. I am not a drug addict, sex addict, food addict, or recovered anything. If I indeed had a past life, I have no recollection of who I was.

I have not survived against all odds.
I have not lived to tell.
I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.”
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is not an ordinary memoir; in fact, it’s quite unique. By her own admission at the start of her memoir, Amy writes in a “choppy, random, segue-free” style. Her memoir, as the title suggests, is written in the format of an encyclopedia, with alphabetical entries about…well, everything. From Anxious, Things That Make Me to Crossing Guard to Wordplays, Amy includes a bunch of random musings that add up to a fairly complete picture of who she is and what her life is like.

This sort of haphazard style might not appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed her book. As I expected, Amy’s writing often made me laugh, and I enjoyed getting to know her. It probably helps that she and I have had similar lives – both born in 1965, both grew up in the suburbs in the 70’s with a younger sister named Beth, both now writers and mothers.

The memoir begins with an overview of American life in the early twenty-first century, including facts like the top CNN stories from 2000 – 2005, highest-rated TV shows, childhood rhymes, common slang, colors of the rainbow, and colors of the J. Crew catalog. You know right away that Amy has a unique and humorous way of looking at life.

As for her encyclopedia entries, they range from observations of the world around her to facts about herself and thoughts and feelings on a wide variety of subjects. I especially enjoyed her fascination with coincidences and wordplay. Some entries are a single line and some go on for pages. Many are accompanied by illustrations. A few of my favorites among the shorter entries:

“Amy Rosenthal:
My father-in-law informed me that my married name could produce these two anagrams: Hearty Salmon. Nasty Armhole. I cannot tell you how much I love that.

It would be difficult to convince me that leaning has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of my bowling.

I love butterscotch but rarely think to seek it out.”

As with the Butterscotch entry, I often found myself thinking, “Yes! Me, too!” as I read. As a bonus, this was the perfect book to read on a sick day, requiring little sustained concentration and producing plenty of laughs. I felt like I had made a new friend by the end of the book.

If you want to know more about Amy and her books (she has also written many children's books), visit her website. There are some wonderful videos there, as well, including her award-winning Kindness Thought Bubble.

 240 pages, Broadway Books


1 comment:

  1. That sounds like a really good book.
    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
    Ch. 1 is online!