An 'Ordinary Life' not so ordinary
Author muses on the magic of the everyday
By Kelly Gyenes
(CNN) -- Amy Krouse Rosenthal can relate to those Apple iPod ads that assert, "Life is random."
Her new book, "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" (Crown), is just that: an arrangement of her musings on moments in everyday life, in no particular order of significance.
Whether she is describing how great it is to find stray bonus fries at the bottom of a McDonald's bag or remembering hugging her parents and hoping they would never die -- well, that's real life for many of us.
"Everything is very random," the author said about the encyclopedic form. "One happy entry is followed by maybe a sad entry; a longer one, a shorter one; one mood and then a drastically different mood; something really mundane and something somewhat important.
The entries, in no order except alphabetical, are often succinct and whimsical.
"Brother," for example, is defined as "My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won't say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower."
Or "Q-Tip": "Inserting a Q-Tip deep into your ear is a great, undiscussed pleasure."
But other entries, such as those on "busy," "death," or "older couple," offer space for rumination. "Busy stands as the easiest way of summarizing all that you do and all that you are. I am busy is the short way of saying -- suggesting -- my time is filled, my phone does not stop ringing, and you (therefore) should think well of me," she writes.
Started with a column
Early reviews have been favorable. One reviewer, from her hometown Chicago Sun-Times, called the book a "marvelous memoir" and praised Krouse Rosenthal as "generous of spirit, self-effacing and, most important, grateful for every precious and ordinary moment."
The book's inspiration stemmed from Krouse Rosenthal's humor column, which originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune's online magazine and later moved to amused.com.
E-mails from readers who enjoyed her column gave her the encouragement she needed to keep writing the random, choppy material rooted in her everyday observations and experiences.
"A lot of those e-mails that I received from readers truly gave me the motivation and ... peace of mind to say, 'Well, maybe there is something here. And I don't know what it is, but let's go for it,' " Krouse Rosenthal said in a recent phone interview.
Still, she was unsure of what path to take when writing her own book.
"Of course I looked at memoirs and autobiographies, and I quickly realized that my thing was not going to be that, because clearly I didn't have a big story to tell," Krouse Rosenthal said.
"Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" took years to write. Krouse Rosenthal admits she struggled, because she found there was not an easy way to categorize the material.
One night she scrutinized what she describes in her book as "the ultimate nonfiction entity: the encyclopedia."
"I found the format that really reflected how I like to write and how I feel about life," the author said.
Thanks to readers
Krouse Rosenthal, a veteran author who hosts a literary and music variety show, "Writers' Block Party," on Chicago Public Radio, also invites reader interaction throughout the book.
At one point, she asks readers to send her an e-mail telling where they are the moment they read a particular entry, then promises to bake and FedEx a pie to the 100th person to write in.
For those who visit the book's Web site -- http://www.encyclopediaofanordinarylife.com -- when they finish reading, the author offers to send them "thank you" e-mails if they pass along their e-mail address.
"It could be seen as gimmicky or something, but I truly felt -- really -- I just wanted to thank the reader for reading the book," Krouse Rosenthal explained. "All they needed to do was send in their e-mail address on this form. In turn, I would send them an e-mail saying, 'Thank you for reading this book.' Every single e-mail I have gotten has come with a note that I have read slowly and savored."
Asked to identify her favorite entries in the book, she mentions the very last one, an entry titled "You."
"I feel like it maybe summarized everything I wanted to say," Krouse Rosenthal said. "If there's only one page I could tear out and say this is what I want someone to remember and to think about in terms of someone being alive in the 21st century ... it would be that one."
In it, she points out how life may be different now for the reader by writing, "Perhaps you think I didn't matter because I lived ____ years ago. ... But I was here. And I did things.
"I was here, you see. I was."