Friday, December 8, 2006

Book Review: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

December 8, 2006

I am sad, so sad, that I have finished this book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This is the kind of book that inspires me to write. I know it's not fair to her because she does have other books, but I want to read nothing else by Rosenthal, because I don't think any of her other works could possibly live up to this. The book is Rosenthal's own odd encyclopedia--one that anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s can identify with. As she explains in the foreward, "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...or recovered anything....I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story."

From there, the book is a collections of thoughts and events in one woman's life. Under "B," for example, you'll find thoughts on Birthdays; Bowling; Brodsky, Joseph; and Busy (to name a few). Here's part of the entry for "Busy": How you been? Busy. How's work? Busy. How was your week? Good. Busy. You name the question. "Busy" is the answer. Yes, yes, I know we are all terribly busy doing terribly important things. But I think more often than not, "Busy" is simply the most acceptable knee-jerk response....

I remember years ago my friend Lauren was reading Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, and she kept laughing and underlining things, taking notes. That's how I was with this book. It is weird to me that Amy Rosenthal and I have utterly different day-to-day lives merely in that I am a really ordinary person and she is a best-selling author--not to mention the dozens of other differences--and yet I found myself constantly amazed that her observations ring so close to mine. Amy Rosenthal might add this as an entry to her book:
Pet Peeve: I find it annoying when people share favorite quotes from books. Why don't people understand that quotes are only meaningful to the reader herself?

Nonetheless, I am sharing a few of my favorite entries:
My kids keep asking me at dessert time, Mom, can I have this little sack of Skittles and this piece of gum? or (looking through their Halloween loot) How about this mini Baby Ruth and a candy cane? I take a quick look at the items they are holding up in their hands and, without hesitation, assess the inventory and respond accordingly, You can have half the candy cane and the mini Baby Ruth. They accept my arbitrary ruling as gospel, as if it stems from some great unwavering truth.

Sign, Bathroom
I saw a sign in a public restroom that said PLEASE DO NOT FLUSH EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF TOILET PAPER OR SHOES DOWN THE TOILET. THANK YOU. I so want to meet the person who flushed a shoe down the toilet, and made a sign like this necessary.

Wreck (excerpt)
...Back in the days when children were allowed to sit in the front seat, I used to tease my mom that throwing her arm out in front of me when she had to abruptly stop the car wouldn't do squat. Nonethelss, there would go her arm, landing an inch from my face at about chin level. Of course, not I understand; in fact, that's pretty much how I'd like to escort my kids through the world, with my arm extended, shielding them, lifting it only when I am sure the coast is clear. ...

Perhaps you think I didn't matter because I lived ____ years ago, and back then life wasn't as lifelike as it is to you now.....But I was here. And I did things. I shopped for groceries. I stubbed my toe. I danced at a party in college and my dress spun around. I hugged my mother and father and hoped they would never die. I pulled change from my pocket. I wrote my name with my finger on a cold, fogged-up window. I used a dictionary. I had babies. I smelled someone barbecuing down the street. ... I picked a scab. I wished I was older. I wished I was younger. I loved my children....I chewed on a blade of grass. I was here, you see. I was.

When I was a college senior, I did an independent course on Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. For months afterwards, everything I wrote and often even the way I spoke sounded like Vonnegut. I am afraid I am going to be thinking and speaking in Rosenthal for weeks to come. Her voice is that strong. This is probably the best book I've read this year, maybe even beating out Eats, Shoots and Leaves. [I'd feel amiss if I didn't issue an occasional strong-language warning with the book; the first few pages ("Orientation Almanac") are the worst.]

No comments: