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Book Review 

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

by Cara Gardner

I'm a huge fan of organization. I love lists, file folders and magazine racks. I like things to be cross-referenced. My bookshelves are organized according to author and genre; my closet is arranged by color, then clothing type. You get the picture. Maybe it's a neurotic way of controlling the smaller things, since I can't control the bigger ones, or else a futile effort to deny chaos -- whatever. I've just always been this way.

So when I found Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, I felt immediately excited ("I must have this book -- now!") and disappointed ("Why didn't I come up with the idea first?"). Krouse Rosenthal's idea? To catalogue her life in alphabetical order, in the style of encyclopedias.

The thought of reading an encyclopedia of someone else's life may sound boring, but it's surprisingly delightful and quirky. Take the book jacket, for example. Inside the front cover, Krouse Rosenthal has been nice enough to print a list of "Wines That Go Nicely With This Book," in addition to cleverly offering a sample of events that may be going on in the world at this exact moment: "A medical supplies salesman is scraping the snow off his windshield with a paper plate."

I'll admit I love this book simply because of the concept, taking the random and the ordinary - breakfast routines, ex-boyfriends, quotes that make a difference, coincidences, our own names - and turning it into an autobiography that is at once scattered and meaningful. Encyclopedias do the same thing for our collective experience (famous people, countries, historic events) -- why not do it for the idiosyncrasies of our personal lives?

There's another reason I love this book so much: In so many ways, Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia is my life in alphabetical order. I suspect I'm not the only one who will feel that way while reading such entries as "Broken" and "Coffee, Stopping For."

Books choose us, if we let them. The best ones inspire us. I'm in the process of compiling all the random scraps of paper and "miscellaneous" aspects of myself for my own Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

Publication date: 2/24/05

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