In-Progress Review: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life”

I’m probably a third of the way into Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I don’t know what, exactly, I expected – the title has “encyclopedia” right there in it, and at the beginning, for crying out loud – but the first few pages bummed me out. It is LITERALLY an encyclopedia of this woman’s life. (Well, aspects of her life she has decided to share.)

I’ve never found encyclopedias to be that interesting. Not interesting enough to sit down and read it cover to cover, anyway. Certainly encyclopedias have a good and real purpose, and that purpose is information. But when I read nonfiction I expect a larger, clearer purpose, a why now kind of urgency that drives the narrative. This Encyclopedia of AKR? I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s chronological. It has charts, timelines, tables, illustrations. I couldn’t figure out the why now. I’m still debating.

So I read through 10 pages, and then 20, wholly deflated that this .. memoir? .. didn’t fit the expectation for memoir that I had foisted upon it. And I snarked on it to a friend. I even made the comment that I was going to try to “get through” the rest of it today, just to get it over with.

But wouldn’t you know, the more I read, the more I found myself laughing out loud at certain encyclopedia entries. And I felt myself connecting with the alphabetized anecdotes, really being able to experience the narrator’s life through her brief commentaries, but also I felt connected to her through my childhood. What?

After the timeline at the beginning, each chapter begins (appropriately) with a letter of the alphabet. I am on letter “D.” (Sidenote: She wants the D. Ha ha ha.)

But it wasn’t until I reached this letter “D” and, specifically, the entry below, that I absolutely connected with the narrator. (And from this point on, she has me completely. I will never doubt her again.)


This is a thought that consumed me in my early twenties, and now, as I’m staring down my thirties, I’m obsessed with it again. I see it in everything I do. Every single day. Multiple times a day. This feeling of, Why does this all matter when I’m as good as dead anyhow? It’s a terrifying thought.

And while it doesn’t change the fact that Amy Krouse Rosenthal is going to die and that I am going to die, and it doesn’t stop me from feeling this thing in every aspect of my life, I feel some comfort and some – dare I say – camaraderie in the fact that I am not the only one who thinks this way.

So, Ms. Rosenthal, you got it. I’m going with your flow. Let’s make it through to Z.

(PS – Consider this a soft-boiled review of sorts. Maybe a full one will follow when I’ve finished and digested EoaOL.)


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