An Ordinary Life Captured In An Extraordinary Book
Amy Krouse Rosenthal has grabbed the attention of North America with her entertaining but highly insightful book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.
An alphabetized memoir, it captures brief, often intense, moments of meaning during the author’s life from childhood to working as an advertising copywriter to family life in Chicago. It ranges from thoughts in coffee shops to memorable smells to what to do after getting a parking ticket. She grabbed the attention of our readers as well, so we asked her...
Was Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life a stream of consciousness that flowed out easily or a very deliberate record of life?
Much more the latter. And I don’t think I could ever use the word "easily." I was engaged and focused and what I was doing felt natural and right, but it never felt easy. So to your point about "a deliberate record of life" - I really did try to chronicle a typical 21st century life. That’s a pretty grandiose agenda, I know - how do you ever really, fully, record a life? You have to pick and choose what goes in your literary time capsule. I have my biases, clear interests. That’s why I wrote the more objective, factual beginning section, "The Orientation Almanac" - I wanted to try to anchor the book in time and place. But regarding the heart of the book, I wrote about the things that intrigued me. I just tried the best I could to write in an accurate and honest way about the experiences and observations and moments that I felt connected to, and that I hoped would resonate with my fellow 21st century mates.
What single aspect of everyday life fascinates you the most?
I’d say I’m smitten with the small in-between moments, the off-beats, the interstices (my editor Annik's favorite word).
What aspect of everyday life has interested you the most today?
I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning, and here are the things that come to mind when I think about Tuesday:
- Standing at the kitchen counter eating some leftover fried calamari.
- My two boys confessing in a really cute away about sneaking Starbursts for breakfast.
- Relishing my just-back-from-the-carwash very clean minivan.
- Watching a great episode of House with my husband.
- Noticing how I feel most comfortable writing in the font Times New Roman on the computer, that I can’t really "think" in other typefaces.
- Spotting a new line of magnetic poetry on my fridge, something about breasts and butts - I’ve narrowed the poet/culprit down to one of three pre-teen males.
- Lying in bed reading and listening to Wilco but then deciding I felt like full-on listening, and setting my book down, and just disappearing into the music.
With the book riding high in the best-seller charts, are you still living an ordinary life?
There are no red carpets in my home, only scuffed hardwood floors.
How have your family reacted to the book, which, of course, features them extensively?
They’re cool and supportive. There really weren’t any surprises for them - I gave my husband and parents and siblings copies of the manuscript way back. The oh-my-God reactions have come from friends - both recent and long lost - who were reading the book and then saw that they were mentioned by name. That’s been a blast actually, hearing from them. Quite a few amazing reconnections. I got a long, sweet email from a boy I went to junior high with (and kissed in 7th grade) who I haven’t seen or talked to in 25 years. That was something else.
What books are piled alongside your bed at the moment?
Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile and Looking for Alaska by John Green, both by Chicago author friends. The Know-it-All by AJ Jacobs. Evening by Susan Minot. The Proust Project. Luncheonette by Steven Sorrentino. Hero Mama by Karen Spears Zacharias. Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
What letter encapsulates the most interesting aspects of ordinary life?
Let me answer it the other way: the only letter that does not give us much insight into ordinary life would be X. All the other letters are pulling their weight, but X is a loafer, a real troublemaker.
Do you like reading about extraordinary lives?
Can I tell you the kind of lives that I enjoy reading about? I think they are extraordinary in fact, but not in a climbing Mount Everest way. These are the voices and life stories that come to mind...
- Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
- All of Nick Hornby’s characters
- Name all the Animals: A Memoir by Alison Smith
- Our Town by Thornton Wilder
- The voice of Alain de Botton
- Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
- Day I became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey
These anthologies too:
- The Slate Diaries
- I Thought My Father was God by Paul Auster
- Booknotes on American Character by Brian Lamb
- All I Did Was Ask by Terry Gross