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Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  3,348 ratings  ·  663 reviews
How do you conjure a life? Give the truest account of what you saw, felt, learned, loved, strived for?

For Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the surprising answer came in the form of an encyclopedia. In Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life she has ingeniously adapted this centuries-old format for conveying knowledge into a poignant, wise, often funny, fully realized memoir. Using mostly s
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2005)
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I was listening to NPR one rainy day in my car and there was, I think, a This American Life segment that mentioned this and it stuck... Amy Rosenthal gets it. And I hate her for it. I hate her and I love her. I should BE her… but that would require motivation and inspiration and for me to go back six years and kick her butt into NOT writing this so that I could.

Just from the cover… ’I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my
Jules Q
Nov 23, 2007 Jules Q rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: creative minds
I rarely give a book a perfect 10 on the ratings scale, but I have to do so in this case. It’s not that the book itself is perfect, nor the author extremely engaging in her own right, but I found the experience of reading it to be a magical one. I was thoroughly inspired at every sitting, my creativity just bursting upon reading each entry. I want to create an encyclopedia of my own life! And for that boost I applaud Rosenthal. I am viewing my world with new eyes and a notepad in hand. No other ...more
Nov 18, 2008 Ciara rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: boring people, boring people who think they're interesting because they're privileged & sheltered
i don't know why i read this. i am annoyed by people who claim to have had "ordinary" lives due to the fact that they aren't abuse survivors or homeless or drug addicts or whatever. hey jerks, newsflash: living through a bunch of really difficult consitions & situations doesn't make a person "interesting," & having been nestled in the bosom of everything that is ozzie-&-harriet white bread middle-class american dream americana doesn't make a person "ordinary". it's pretty fucking EXT ...more
This small book is Amy Krouse Rosenthal's commentary on life, specifically hers, organized alphabetically. Which means it's all about Amy.

It was OK. I'm not complaining about her writing skills; she has nothing to blush for. But the book itself--the content--did not work for me.

There were a few times where I said Yes! That is exactly how I feel! But mostly it was a study in not-like-ness. Oh, there were a few times when I said Ewww! or (eyebrows raised, eyes half-closed, mouth scrunched up) You
Oct 11, 2008 Amanda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amanda by: It's Kim's favorite
10/6--Kim, are you out there? Are you listening?
You're Amy Krouse Rosenthal, aren't you?
Me, too!!!

10/10--In a brief half hour of stillness, I open my book. And my breath is stolen by the entry on Dying. A sudden snap, and life as we know it is over. And not so much by our own death, but by the death of someone we love or of someone we don't even know. This entry tells me that Amy Krouse Rosenthal has a hole in her heart that can't be filled by all the funny encyclopedia entries in the world, no
amy krouse rosenthal writes with the exact same flair and random brilliance as every single one of my friends -- perhaps why this book wasn't as unusual and unique as i expected. though there were some passages i was compelled to read aloud to anyone who'd listen, i mostly had the nagging feeling that i already know amy from somewhere, maybe chicago where i too grew up. she mentions names of people i'm familiar with like greg allen of the neo-futurists, and the whole concept and brevity of the c ...more
I received this book as a Christmas gift from M. "Open it," she talk-whispered.

In it, a note scribbled on a piece of notepad from my most recent business trip:
"This must seem weird- not something you asked for. Powell's had Sherman Alexie write a blog about what he was giving people for Christmas. I thought he'd send it to you if he knew. xo"

I burst into HappyChristmasTears, and she asked what was wrong. Nothing, I assured her. I just really love it.


I've just finished reading it today, 12/27/
Beth Sniffs Books
As the title indicates, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AN ORDINARY LIFE is a memoir told in encyclopedia form — with cross references and black & white illustrations, tables, and exhibits! AKR shares autobiographic info, observations on the human condition and the world around us, as well as random musings. AKR’s inspiration for telling her story in this manner stems from her discovery of The Pillow Book of Shei Shonagon — a collection of writings and notes that aren’t always related. So while there really ...more
If I wanted to be cliché, I might write, "Amy Krouse Rosenthal, in her unusual memoir, turns the ordinary life into the extraordinary life." But I'd be totally wrong. There is nothing "extraordinary" about her life as it is catalogued in the encyclopediac entries that comprise this book, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth reading. In fact, Rosenthal's book isn't simply original in its approach and hard to put down, it captures the harmless (and shameless) self-aggrandizing we partake in as we ...more

This book's conceit is rather novel. Clever author creates own encyclopedia of everyday things, dropping in her own thoughts on same. It seems easy. It seems to reward anyone willing to keep a journal. It seems it's too late to try the same trick, now that it's been ruined.


This book has this in spades because boy, howdy, if you don't know Amy Krouse Rosenthal's every little notion by the end, you're thicker than Jimmy Hoffa's last pair of cement shoes.


Who suggested this book to me? Thank you, whoever you are! This book was just so wonderful. The author is a woman who wanted to write a kind of memoir but didn't really like the traditional style, so it is instead written as lists, timelines, and a series of alphabetical topics.

Reading this book made me so happy because I felt like I was sitting down and spending time with friends and family. The section on magazines made me think of Leeann. The lists and the author's love of puns and wordplay
Jul 26, 2009 bookczuk rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to bookczuk by: Liza
Shelves: bookcrossing, ho-hum
Interesting concept -- an encyclopedia of an ordinary life, but in actual practice it wears thin fairly quickly. There are enchanting tidbits, but as a regular diet for this reader, it left me hungry for plot, story, and substance.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an interesting writer. She embraces her mundane life and crafts it into a fascinating memoir with this book. The format inspires personal memoir writing.
I'd rate this a 4.5. Not quite a 5 because I found at least two typos and because it took me a little bit of time to get into it, but better than a 4 because some of it is brilliant and because it's a unique and refreshing way to put together a book of bits of nonsense scattered among essays of depth and emotion. She files snippets of thoughts alphabetically under titles. Because she thinks like that and has loved encyclopedias since she was a kid.

Like when she talks about believing she didn't
Memoirs have been the hot thing for a while now and it seems as if they are all trying to one up the other. "I divorced my husband and traveled to India, Bali, and Italy and found myself AND a new husband!" "Well, I cooked every one of Julia Child's recipes for a whole year!" "Well, I was stranded with my arm chopped under a boulder for days and I finally decided to amputate it myself!" (Can you guess the books?) Although I'm poking fun at them, I truly enjoyed all of these books. They inspire y ...more
I admit, I started this book thinking I was going to hate it. It sounded gimmicky writing about an ordinary life as a memoir. The author states at the beginning that she has not undergone abuse or trauma or addiction, that nothing extraordinary has happened to her. (I don't have my copy here, or I would quote her, oh well.)
Yet, this author managed to amuse me and impress me with her detailed catalogue of her point of view on many subjects, A-Z. I was not bored, despite that I expected to be. I
I discovered this author through her children's books, which display her sense of humor. In this book, she shows us her truly unique take on the world with Seinfeld-like observations.

As she says in the foreword, "I was not abused, abandoned or locked up as a child. My parents were not alcoholics, nor were they ever divorced or dead. I am not a misunderstood genius, a former child celebrity, or the child of a celebrity. I am not a drug addict, a sex addict, or recovered anything. If I indeed had
I could kick myself! Why didn't I think of this idea? The author got paid for an encyclopedic listing of random thoughts, anecdotes, and ephemera from her life? How awesome is that? I think everybody should do this! Everyone has stories to tell. Being that the author is close to my age, I could relate to so many of her observations on growing up in the 60s and 70s, contemporary culture, motherhood, marriage. I loved the drawings, charts, and graphs that accompanied the entries. (In fact, I would ...more
Reading this unique collection of vignettes, observations, and memories felt like a conversation over cocoa with Amy Krouse Rosenthal. True to her word, nothing earth shattering occurs in this memoir, but her insights and humor left a deep impression on me. I even started my own encyclopedia entries of tidbits of my life, which I hope to develop into a bigger project in a few weeks as my students compose their own.

Overall, this is an entertaining and cozy read, full of laughs and beautifully wri
Full of charts, lists, and short essays, Rosenthal categorizes her life in the format of an encyclopedia from A-Z and birth to 2004, when she is forced to finally end the book for publication.

This book is great writing tool for teachers. The essays and charts are close examinations of things like: cereal slogans, the scrap of paper by the phone with scribbled messages, license plates, Things that Make me Anxious, Random things that for Some reason come back to my mind, Comparisons between churc
I usually am anti- people in their 30s writing memoirs, but I cannot stop talking about this book. I’ve read portions to all my classes and to anyone I can get to listen. The format and construction of this book is brilliant. So while all passages may not resonate, the overall tone and style do.

I love that Rosenthal takes the profound and packages it next to the mundane. I love that she hones in on aspects of our lives where we could stand to aspire for more and pokes fun at her own idiosyncras
i LOVE this book! I cannot emphasize that enough- it is one of my all-time favorites and earns a rarely awarded 5th star. At once light-hearted and insightful, this innovative concept had me giggling all the time. This seemingly simple book left me feeling unified, part of a whole I didn't know existed, and completely identifying with Rosenthal, the author. The small, though not insignificant details of her 'Ordinary Life' illustrate humanity in a touching, real and endearing way. In my opinion, ...more
What a delight! Rosenthal tells her life story in such a witty, creative way.
I LOVED this book. It was so clever and I enjoyed reading it. I thought it was very relatable. I really felt like I got her, and so many times I said, out loud, "me too!” I especially liked her thoughts on folded potato chips being the best, waiting for leftovers to get to an acceptable level of being old so that you can throw them out without guilt and hoping your clothes are dirty when you take them off so that you can put them in the dirty laundry and not have to hang them up or put them away ...more
Mr. Holt
While there were some deep thoughts and beautiful moments in Amy Krouse Rosenthal's disjointed memoir "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life," they were few and far between. The book read more like a recollection of the contents of my junk drawer growing up with a piece of this and some of that. It lacked flow and cohesiveness. I totally get what the author was trying to do by being all original and unique in her approach to an autobiography, but the execution was severely flawed. Some of the entries ...more
Just so genius. I loved, loved, loved this book. The whole time I was reading it, I was nodding my head, laughing out loud and kicking myself in the face for not writing this! In fact, I do want to write it about my own life and give it to my children (probably the only people who would care) when I'm on my deathbed. Rosenthal has a captivating voice and the outlook on life that more people should have. So real and so positive at the same time. Genius.
While I appreciate the creative way in which Amy Krouse Rosenthal created this memoir, I regretfully must report that I did not enjoy this book. I personally found it to be rather boring. As a piece of non-ficiton that is stylistically fashioned after an encyclopedia, I found the construction interesting and appreciated the creative way Rosenthal told her (rather uneventful) story. I won't deny that I laughed (at maximum) a couple times at certain sentences or related to one thing or another con ...more
"Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" is not quite a memoir. It's not quite a biography. It's a collection of snippets and fragments of one woman's life, categorized alphabetically, that, I suppose, are offered up as a representation of life on a broader scale. All told, there's not much "there" there. Certainly some entries ring true as they connect with my own experiences and memories. Some entries are clever and insightful. And some entries are tedious or banal.

What ultimately works in the books
I really enjoyed some parts of the book, where I thought to myself, "I totally think this in my head, but never spoke out loud about it to anyone else". One such thing was that she wonders while in a plane at what altitude would we survive a crash. I always think the same way when my plane is landing. Other parts of the book I'm more "meh" about and couldn't relate.
This had me alternately laughing out loud and muttering "oh my god" and calling my sister or mom or friend to read passages to them or telling my husband "she is so writing about me, even though she's writing about herself."
as a scrapper, I totally connected with this whole concept, as lots of others have, and want to build some future projects around it.
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“I am a slow reader, and fast eater; I wish it were the other way around.” 11 likes
“To get a true sense of the book, I have to spend a few moments inside. I'll glance at the first couple pages, then flip around to somewhere in the middle, see if the language matches me somehow. It's like dating, only with sentences......It could be something as simple yet weirdly potent as a single word (tangerine). We're meant to be, that sentence and me. And when it happens, you just know.” 6 likes
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