a bookclique pick by Nina Badzin
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, written by, none other than Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is the kind of book most readers could complete in one sitting. Instead, I only allowed myself a few pages a day. I enjoyed Rosenthal’s voice and world-view so much that I didn’t want it to end. I began reading Rosenthal’s unusual memoir weeks before her New York Times Modern Love essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” went viral. In that piece, Rosenthal, 51, revealed she was battling ovarian cancer. I reached the last words of her extraordinarily original book just a few days before Rosenthal passed away. Textbook was written before her diagnosis, which is hard to comprehend as some of the prose reads like a long, beautiful goodbye to her friends and family. Similar to Rosenthal’s previous memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Textbook is arranged as a reference book. Both books are, as I mentioned, “unusual,” because the readers do not receive a linear slice of Rosenthal’s life. Rather we’re offered what seem like random snapshots of her interests, thought-processes, and quirks. The magic of Rosenthal’s writing resides not in a wild ride of a story with rising action, a climax, and a resolution, but in the truths she reveals sentence by sentence. I spent most of my time with Textbook nodding and smiling while thinking, “Yes, that is so true.” The concept of Rosenthal’s memoir as a “textbook” refers to two aspects of the experience. First, the book is supposed to imitate an academic textbook with sections such as geography, science, math, language arts, and others. Rosenthal uses charts, multiple-choice questions, and other school-like methods to reveal tidbits of her life and her wisdom. The second meaning refers to the occasional sections where readers are instructed to text a word to a specific phone number so they can receive pre-written or pre-recorded messages back from Rosenthal. It’s not necessary to follow the texting instructions at all, but doing so adds a fun and oftentimes meaningful element to what’s in the prose or chart. I especially enjoyed (and cried to) one of Rosenthal’s suggestions towards the end. As instructed, I texted “End Notes” to the phone number then let the music play as I read those final pages. This is the kind of mind Rosenthal possessed. She was playful and interested in readers experiencing something new. In the book she described other experiments she conducted with her readers over the years. I highly recommend both of Rosenthal’s memoirs for a new type of reading adventure, but savor the pages, don’t rush them. Those of us who have been fans of Rosenthal’s work for many years have no choice but to read it all for a second time.