Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

31. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
nonfiction, 2004
fourth book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge
finished, 4/9/11

I first heard of this book when Sarah posted a video on her blog. At the end of it, there was a list of all the books. When I saw this title, I was intrigued. I searched it out, and immediately ordered it online.

Would it be hyperbole for me to say that I've never read anything quite so enjoyable? Would I be gushing if I said I love this book beyond words? Well, both are true.

In my nonfiction literary life I have three women friends, each of whom has been mentioned on the blog.
One is the late Laurie Colwin:
Family Happiness
Happy All The Time
Home Cooking
More Home Cooking

The others are Nora Ephron:
I Feel Bad About My Neck
and Sarah Vowell:
The Partly Cloudy Patriot

And now there is a fourth, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Rather than try and describe this wonderful, unique book, I'm going to simply quote a number of passages, and let Amy's words speak for themselves. The book is arranged in alphabetical order, and contains a myriad of interesting ways to tell about a person, in this case, Amy. There are entries nostalgic and sad; commonplace and extraordinary.

One would think that by this point in my life, I would have outgrown the fear of getting my shoe caught in the escalator.

I'm turning left. Look, everyone, my blinker is on, and I'm turning left. I am so happy to be alive, driving along, making a left turn. I'm serious. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing at this moment: existing on a Tuesday, going about my business, on my way somewhere, turning left. There is nothing disconcerting or unpleasant or unfortunate about this moment. It is exceptionally nice, plain, and perfect.

I always want to see what happens after the movie is technically over. I want an update on the couple that fell in love in Dolby Surround Sound, to see how they're doing post-euphoria. Have they begun fighting over small increments of time? (You said you'd be home at seven-fifteen. It's seven-twenty.) Or in Ransom, for example, after they get their son back in the end, I want to see what their family life is like. When they're sitting around the breakfast table, do they reminisce, can you believe you were chained up to a bed for a week?

It's a powerful thing, coming across an old photo of someone close to you. It makes you pause -
You have to closely examine it. Like a portrait of my grandmother from forty years ago - so vibrant, poised, that nice tweed skirt. Without the mask of old age, her features are more pronounced; she's herself, but crisper. I have a snapshot of my parents from their courtship period, swinging at a park, all smiles and good skin. There they exist as a young man and a teenage woman who love each other, nothing more yet; they are not parents, they have no affiliation to an unborn me. I know how the story unfolds from there - quite happily actually - but in that photo, they are ripe, on the verge, unencumbered, and so very beautiful. I know my own children will one day come across an old photo of me and Jason. Look at Mom and Dad. They were so young. Look at Mom's hair. And how handsome Dad was.

Online you can find Amy in a few places (and there may be others):
Who is Amy
The book site
A video site

I have now technically completed the Dewey Decimal Challenge, but I expect I'll be reading more nonfiction this year.


  1. I've never heard of this book or the author. I'm amazed you were able to write the title down from the credits of that video (which I've seen, as well)! I popped over to Amy's website and discovered this video. She reminds me of Kelly Corrigan. I'm off to watch more. And, yes. I'll get the book.

  2. I'm amazed you can read so quickly. I must be the slowest reader on the planet (and to think I once enrolled in a speed-reading class; I didn't do well).

  3. Hooray!! I found this book in our library system and have it on order. Thanks Nan!

  4. Les and view from the back forty, I caught a glimpse of the title, and paused it. :<) I am actually quite a slow reader.

    Kathie, I'm so pleased.

  5. I'm not familiar with this one, but I so enjoyed "I Feel Bad About My Neck", because I could relate to it...LOL

  6. I just spotted two books by O. Douglas on Gutenberg "The Seatons" amd "Penny Plain" if you haven't read them yet you might enjoy them on your e reader ?
    I think if I remember correctly they are both enjoyable reads ..and now I'm off to check!

  7. Diane, ;<)

    Val, I'll check into these! Thanks.

  8. Hello Nan,

    I LOVED this book as well - I had it home from the library but have it on my "to buy" list. I think I mentioned it on my blog a year or so ago, I loved it so. She also writes adorable books for the kiddies, but I hope she has more books in the works for us!

  9. Oops, Nan - I just left you a comment but it may have come up from an "Owen" - my nephew was logged on to my computer earlier in the day. It's actually me - Alison!

  10. I bought this one a few years back and have used it to scrapbook with. I found it fascinating and loved it to pieces!

  11. Alison, how did I miss it?? I'll go searching tomorrow to see what you said. So nice to hear from you!

    Staci, I can't imagine what you mean. ??

    One woman, you are welcome.

  12. This really sounds like something I want to read, too! Never heard of the book or the author until now.

  13. Oh, Laurie Colwin. Time to start rereading her. I think Family Happiness, despite its sadness, is one of my favorite novels of all time. I've been having a wonderful few minutes looking at your authors page - we have many favorites in common. I'm going to look for this one, too.

  14. Librarian, she is around your age so some of her memories may resonate with you- even not being in the same country.

    Audrey, I'm so delighted that you looked through the 'authors' tab. I put it together not too long ago. This is a wonderful book. I'm quite sure you will like it.

  15. I am so behind on this challenge - floundering on my Victorian Reading challenge as well. I do read non-fiction, but lately I haven't been in the mood.

    I love the sound of this book, although normally it's not the sort of thing I read. But the excerpts are wonderful. The Nora Ephron book has been on my periphery for awhile. Time to get moving.

    I read and loved two Laurie Colwin books: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Just perfection. I was so saddened when I learned, out of the blue, she'd passed away.

  16. Hey Nan - I meant to respond log ago to your comment on my blog about the observation of AKR's son that reminded you of something my kid might say. I did buy this book after you recommended it and I had read the same comment the night before you wrote to me about it. (!) I thought the same thing - i.e., this sounds like my kid. Thanks for the tip on this book and for the comment. I have one for you now - Tina Fey's new memoir _Bossy Pants_. I am recommending the audio book because she reads it and it's a great (funny) performance.

  17. Yvette, you've got lotsa months left! ;<) In my reading experience, this book isn't like any other book. It is quite unique, and so, so wonderful.

    KSV, that is pretty amazing!! And I will check into the TF book. I've read a couple of her columns in the New Yorker, and thought they were very good.

  18. I love the quotes you included. I was smiling as I read them. My library doesn't have this, but I'll have to search it out.

    Congratulations on finishing the challenge!

  19. And I thank you, Jen for offering the challenge!

  20. I really enjoyed this book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  21. Karen, I'm so, so pleased you read it, and that you liked it! She seems like a great person.


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