published in the News and Observer and in the Charlotte Observer
September 24, 2016
An interactive memoir with multiple choice questions, quizzes and the organization of a textbook? A book that invites readers and listeners to connect with the author via text? “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Not Exactly a Memoir” (book from Dutton, audio from Random House Audio) leaps beyond traditional books in structure and offers engaging views of life that are relatable, intriguing and enlightening.
Rosenthal – or Amy KR as the author refers to herself – shows a singular awareness of audience in her writing, narration and content. Her intonations accent the book’s wit, her pauses allow contemplation, her varied voice tones aid the audio’s myriad moods. She offers ways to connect whether you’re listening or reading. A pdf is included with the audio version while the text send readers to sites that reveal the sounds that are embedded in the audio. I listened and read at the same time so I didn’t have to double back to check out the images on the pdf.
The book is divided into textbook-like sections – geography, social studies, art and science. Then after a pause for the “midterm essay,” Rosenthal resumes with romance languages, history, music, math and language arts before there’s a final review. What Rosenthal covers within the chapters are hardly what you would expect. Her leaps of association are surprising and pleasing. Her geography section, for example, links places with synchronicities. In this section, she relates a dream of being on “Fresh Air” (introduced with an impression of Terry Gross’ enthusiastic lilt). She is saddened when talk turns to the election instead of beautiful things “like the nice sound you can make by circling your finger around the rim of a wineglass.” That is followed by wine-glass playing renditions by a Master Sommelier, Rosenthal and a cousin whose name is, coincidentally, Terry Gross.
Later in the History section she remembers lamentations of turning her notes into a story. She gets help from a “fiction writer pal whose debut novel is in the works and has no clue he will soon become a colossal, international success.” Soon one hears the voice of YA superstar John Green who reads the start of the “robust tale” he penned for her.
For all its fascinating randomness, there is a subtle memoir focus to “Textbook” and the format has a symbolic meaning beyond its apparent whimsy. Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes as she faces empty nest, her days of seeing high school textbooks coming to an end. Reminiscences of raising her children are silly and sweet and her upbeat manner keeps melancholy in check. Rosenthal’s vivid wondering and quirky views present a textbook case of someone who understands that her next adventure is just around the corner.