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Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life Paperback – December 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, one-time Might magazine columnist and self-confessed hater of the segue has written a snappy, random, remarkable memoir--the first of its kind to give readers an honest flaws-n-all perspective of what it's like to be...ordinary. Initially inspired by the "bizarre, haphazard arrangement" of The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Rosenthal has collected a lifetime of thoughts, observations, and decisions, and created an alphabetized personal encyclopedia, complete with cross-referenced entries and illustrations. Rosenthal reveals the minutiae of her life, from pumping gas ("Every. Single. Solitary. Time I go to get gas I have to lean out the window to see which side the tank is on"), to witnessing her son's accident ("I saw with front-row-seat clarity, just how quickly, randomly, and mercilessly your child can be taken away"), and in turns both playful and poignant, engages the reader in effortless and stimulating conversation.

Whether you are laughing aloud or nodding along, reading Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is like being introduced to a new friend--one that you automatically connect with and feel compelled to share. Fans of Dave Eggers, David Sedaris, and shows like Arrested Development and Scrubs will appreciate Rosenthal's quirky, conversational humor and dead-on observations. Writers will see the book as a contemporary portrait of the fledgling artist, and should enjoy her aptly named, "Evolution of this Moment"--a timeline tracking her growth as a writer from her first word ("more") to publication of her fourth book.

Modesty prevents Rosenthal from acknowledging herself as anything other than ordinary--that, and the fact that she has not "survived against all odds"--but that certainly does not mean she has nothing to say, or to share. Her delightful memoir is a reminder that life is not always an adventure, but it can be full of sad, silly, and important moments that make it worth living. Witness the generosity of an author who is willing to reveal so much of herself, not just as a writer, but also as a person--share this delightfully quirky, utterly enjoyable book with family and friends with a note, "Here is someone I think you should meet." --Daphne Durham

Amazon.com Exclusive Content

The Lost and Found Project
Between January 25th and February 1st, hundreds of copies of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life were intentionally left in random places (taxis, public bathrooms, laundromats) in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Each book was inscribed with a note from the author, and the finder was encouraged to report back to Rosenthal's website (www.encyclopediaofanordinarylife.com) when and where the book was discovered.

Watch the "Lost and Found" video directed by filmmaker Steve Delahoyde, documenting Rosenthal's test run and featuring her theme song, "This is My Story."
Listen to the theme song written by Tony Rogers.

Ordinary Life from A to Z
How do you interview a smart, creative, clever author like Amy Krouse Rosenthal? You agree to let her start with the questions, and hang on for the ride. Find out more about Amy and sneak a peek behind-the-scenes at Amazon.com with this decidedly ordinary email correspondence between Ms. Rosenthal and senior editor Daphne Durham.

Read our unusual interview with author Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Extra Ordinary Excerpts





--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (December 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400080460
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400080465
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a person who likes to make things.
Some things she likes to make:

Children's books.
Grown-up books.
Short videos.
Connections with the universe.
Something out of nothing.

According to The New York Times, Amy's award-winning children's books "radiate fun the way tulips radiate spring: they are elegant and spirit-lifting."


Amy's alphabetized memoir ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AN ORDINARY LIFE was named one of Amazon's top 10 memoirs of the decade. She is also the creator of a specialty line of keepsake journals.

Amy is a contributor to public radio, YouTube (THE BECKONING OF LOVELY, THE MONEY TREE) and TED (7 NOTES ON LIFE).

Amy resides on a tree-lined street in Chicago and online at whoisamy.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is an extraordinary idea, which is amusing, perfectly executed, and well-written. It is exactly what the title says: an encyclopedia (A to Z) of the author's life. Entries are not comprehensive, of course, and are purely the author's choosing, encompassing things such as her husband, how she feels about her name, and her observations and feelings about birthdays.

The book reads like an encyclopedia that is slightly non-sensical, as the entries sometimes offer definitions, sometimes offer childhood memories, and sometimes offer observations or ideas. It is illustrated here and there with photos from the author's life, drawings by an encyclopedia illustrator, and other bits and pieces. Although some of the entries are not as engaging or interesting as the rest, overall, the book offers a no-frills, unique look at an ordinary person living an ordinary life. Of course Amy is extraordinary in her own way - she would have to be to write a book like this and for a book like this to be interesting. Her ideas are fun and funny, and I'm sure that many readers will try them out (such as leaving envelopes with change for strangers to find). She is also insightful, and one of the more fascinating aspects of the book is the juxtaposition that occurs between Amy's life and experiences and the reader's own. With a life mapped out in the manner of an encyclopedia, it is easy to draw such comparisons. I can't say that this is a book I'd read over and over again, but it is definitely one I will keep and one I will pass around among my family and friends.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a writer who teaches memoir workshops to "ordinary" students, I will be using this book as an example in my classes. Given our celebrity-driven culture, I often have a hard time convincing would-be writers that their lives really matter, let alone are worth recording on paper. Books like Rosenthal's may not compete with literary essays or memoirs, but they serve a purpose and should not be discounted. "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" will give others the courage to record the quotidian moments of their days, and there's a lot to be said for that.
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Format: Hardcover
Looking at Amy Rosenthal's book, one of two things occurs to you: that it's an intriguingly simple idea and why didn't someone else, perhaps even you, think of it before; or that it is a tremendously boring idea and why should you be bothered? If you have got to the point where you are reading other people's opinions of the book, we can assume you are not in the second group.

Set up like an encyclopedia, in alphabetical order, Rosenthal creates a memoir of her life. It's like reading a magazine or someone's website, with snippets of random thoughts, interesting facts, opinions, lists, diary entries, mementos, quotations, even a recipe. And sadly, you realize that if you tried to do something like this, it would not be this interesting. It isn't that Amy has had a particularly fascinating life. She is pretty up front about that, her disclaimer right on the book jacket says: "I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story."

Why does Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life work? Why should I care that some woman in Chicago (Rosenthal) doesn't write down the order number when she buys something over the phone? I wouldn't, except that with Rosenthal, it's more like an confession, a conspiracy almost, because she suspects you only pretend to write down the number too. There a lot of moments in Encyclopedia, sometimes trivial, sometimes not, when you think, yes, I know exactly what she means.

I like the drawings in Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. They are mostly done by Jeffrey Middleton, who recently illustrated a new edition of Webster's Dictionary. When Rosenthal read about him in a newspaper article, she knew he would be perfect for her book.
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Format: Hardcover
It would be so easy to hate Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has written a raft of books about parenting. They have titles like "The Same Phrase Describes My Marriage and My Breasts...Before the kids, they used to be a cute couple."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has created sound files of her children. Like: kids slurping breakfast cereal.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal once had a column called "15 Megabytes of Fame."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, asked what it's like to have three --- three! --- kids, responded thus: "It's just love to the third power."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal's idea of five words that sound great: "They lived happily ever after."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal asks herself questions like: "Are Christo's gifts amazingly wrapped?"

Cute. Terminally cute, in that charming (but really, when you think about it: annoying), suburban, privileged, NPR way. You know, like she just happens to write down the cute things her children say and her mind serves up, and then --- surprise! --- a magazine calls and pries her notes from her reluctant fingers.

I'm not buying it. I say Amy Krouse Rosenthal --- and, c'mon, what's with all the names? Is she an acolyte of Hillary Rodham Clinton? --- is a professional writer and a damn clever one at that. I say cute is a brilliant disguise for ambition and craft. I say 'Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life' is anything but a random tour through the days and thoughts of an ordinary woman --- there's not one ordinary thing about Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

What's really going on here?

Back in the day, Ms.
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