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Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,7002482,449 (4.02)1 / 257
A chance encounter with a handsome banker in a jazz bar on New Year's Eve 1938 catapults Wall Street secretary Katey Kontent into the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multi-millionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow.
  1. 71
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Cecilturtle)
  2. 50
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Atonement, like Rules of Civility, paints a picture of events that instantly turn characters' worlds upside down. Also set in the 1930s, it highlights the lingering opulence of the age and how that can disappear amid tragedy.
  3. 10
    Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (sidiki)
  4. 11
    The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (trav)
    trav: Slightly different time period and tone, but the writing is very similar as are the dynamics. Both Rules of Civility and The Glass Room are very well written time-period books.
  5. 11
    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Limelite)
    Limelite: Another look at an ambitious woman making her own way in the world and with commentary on the society of her times.
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Showing 1-5 of 244 (next | show all)
This book follows our main character through a couple of years in New York in the late 1930s - the world is about to blow up, the country is coming back from the Great Depression, and she is just living her life. In an interesting way, the book makes her not appear to be the protagonist but more the observing bystander, so, similar to a Gentleman in Moscow, watching the world go by. However, this New York world was less interesting and appealing to me. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
My book club read this author's novel A Gentleman in Moscow last year. We all liked it so much that we chose to read Towles first novel this year. It is certainly far different from A Gentleman in Moscow and I didn't find it as engaging as that book. Having said that there is a lot to like in the book and I look forward to our upcoming Book Club discussion.

Katey Kontent is a young woman living in a boarding house in New York City. On New Year's Eve 1937 she and her roommate Eve Ross go to a little jazz club with just enough money between them to buy one drink an hour up to midnight. They drink a little faster than allotted; by ten o'clock they were out of money. Salvation arrives in the form of Tinker Grey who has come to the club to meet his brother (who never shows up). Dressed in fine clothes topped by an expensive cashmere overcoat it is obvious to both Katey and Eve that he could afford to buy drinks for the whole bar. They settle for having him buy them drinks and chat to him. Just before midnight they go out to count down to 1938 and Katey pockets Tinker's lighter when he lights up her cigarette. Offering to return the lighter if he meets them for another night on the town Tinker, Eve and Katey are soon going out on the town together. Then, one stormy night, they are rear-ended and Eve goes through the windshield of Tinker's car. She is badly hurt, scarred facially and with a broken leg. Her parents want her to come home to Indiana but Eve refuses. Tinker, who feels incredibly guilty about the accident, offers to have her stay in his apartment which has an elevator and meal service and all manner of other delights. Katey who was not injured in the crash moves out of the boarding house into a small apartment of her own. She helps with Eve's care while continuing to work at her secretarial job in a law office. And she reads and teaches herself to play bridge. Eve is so depressed by her condition that Tinker is afraid she will commit suicide so he takes her off to Florida to recuperate. Katey encounters a new group of friends that she spends evenings on the town with but no-one as interesting as Tinker and Eve. When they finally return to New York City they have her over for dinner together with three people they spent time with in Florida. One is a well-to-do young man named Wallace Wolcott who is quite a bit more serious than the rest of the group. Later in the year Katey and Wallace renew their acquaintance and he makes good on the promise he had made at that dinner to take her shooting. From then until Wallace goes to Spain to fight for the Spanish Civil War he and Katey spend many hours together but they are never lovers. As 1938 progresses Katey changes her job to become assistant to a magazine editor at Conde Nast which suits her talents. And she re-encounters Tinker and Eve each of which make dramatic changes in their lifestyle. Katey reflects on all this in 1969 after attending a photography showing of pictures taken in 1938 on the subway. There are two pictures of Tinker in the exhibition, one showing him dressed in his expensive sable overcoat and the other showing him thinner, ragged but joyful.

All four of the main characters made a choice that year that changed the outcome of the rest of their lives. Towles sums up the book in this paragraph close to the end of the book:
Life doesn't have to provide you any options at all. It can easily define your course from the outset and keep you in check through all mannerof rough and subtle mechanics. To have even one year when you're presented with choices that can alter your circumstnaces, your character, your course--that's by the grace of God alone. And it shouldn't come without a price. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jan 21, 2021 |
I luxuriated in this novel which was made all the sweeter by the terse John Grisham novel I had read just before. See my review of Camino Island for Grisham's rules for writers. Amor Towles breaks a good many of them. It's delicious.

Rules of Civility begins with a Preface, ends with an Epilogue, and has a lot of beautiful unnecessary words. In the end, like the Agatha Christies the main character Kate devoured that year, everyone eventually gets what they deserve.

Kate says of the Christie mysteries: "Poirot and Marple are not really central characters in the traditional sense. They are simply the agencies of an intricate moral equilibrium that was established by the Primary Mover at the dawn of time." Kate is much like this.

The young Kate observes: "One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements."

The middle-aged Kate reflects: "I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me. And at the same time, I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss."

The literary theme running through Rules, from Dickens to Thoreau to Christie and more, is one that's been directing my reading, so I'm pleased when I stumble upon it unexpectedly. ( )
  Linda_Louise | Jan 20, 2021 |
I loved Katey Kontent!!! This entire book was a wonderful journey through New York in the 30's. This is my second try at this book and I don't know why I couldn't get into it the first time but I am glad I tried again. Onto a "gentleman in Moscow". ( )
  FurbyKirby | Jan 5, 2021 |
This is set in New York City in 1938. The narrator describes her friendships, romances, and jobs as she moves through various social circles. It focuses in particular on her friendship with one wealthy man, who she might have had a relationship with had circumstances been different. The book examines what relationships and friendships work and why, how people move in and out of our lives in unexpected ways, and what is truly worth valuing in relationships.

Like so many books set in New York City, the city is as much of a character in the novel as any of the people - the buildings, the jazz, the artists, the mingling of rich and poor that doesn't really happen anywhere else.

The story isn't terribly exciting or eventful, but Towles is a delightful writer - the characters feel very real, and the book is very engaging. ( )
  Gwendydd | Nov 29, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 244 (next | show all)
In Towles’s first novel, “Rules of Civility,” his clever heroine, who grew up in Brooklyn as “Katya,” restyles herself in 1930s Manhattan as the more clubbable “Katey,” aspiring to all-American inclusion. As World War II gears up, raising the economy from bust to boom, Katey’s wit and charm lift her from a secretarial pool at a law firm to a high-profile assistant’s perch at a flashy new Condé Nast magazine. One night at the novel’s outset touches off the chain reaction that will produce both Katey’s career and her husband, and define her entire adult life. She’s swept into the satin-and-cashmere embrace of the smart set — blithe young people with names like Dicky and Bitsy and Bucky and Wallace — with their Oyster Bay mansions, their Adirondack camps, their cocktails at the St. Regis and all the fog of Fishers Island.
 
If there's a problem, it's this: the parallels with Breakfast at Tiffany's are perhaps a little too overt (glamorous but down-at-heel girl falls in love with wealthy but mysterious benefactor). But that's not exactly a complaint. This is a flesh-and-blood tale you believe in, with fabulous period detail. It's all too rare to find a fun, glamorous, semi-literary tale to get lost in.
 
Manhattan in the late 1930s is the setting for this saga of a bright, attractive and ambitious young woman whose relationships with her insecure roommate and the privileged Adonis they meet in a jazz club are never the same after an auto accident.
added by theeclecticreview | editKirkus Review (Jun 1, 2011)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amor Towlesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Payette, MaggieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
—Matthew 22:8-14
Dedication
For Maggie, my comet
First words
On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art—the first exhibit of the portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.
Quotations
As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion -- whether they're triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment -- if the next thing you're going to say makes you feel better, then it's probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I've discovered in life. And you can have it, since it's been of no use to me.
The 1930s . . .
what a grueling decade that was.
I was sixteen when the Depression began, just old enough to have had all my dreams and expectations duped by the effortless glamour of the twenties. It was as if America launched the Depression just to teach Manhattan a lesson.
It turned out to be a book of Washingtonia. The inscription on the front page indicated it was a present to Tinker fro his mother on the occasion of his fourteenth birthday. The volume had all the famous speeches and letters arranged in chronological order, but it led off with an aspirational list composed by the founder in his teenage years:
Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. . . . There were 110 of them! And over half were underlined – one adolescent sharing another's enthusiasm for propriety across a chasm of 150 years. It was hard to decide which was sweeter – the fact that Tinker's mother had given it to him, or the fact that he kept it at hand.
Squirrels scattered before us among the tree trunks and yellow-tailed birds zipped from branch to branch. The air smelled of sumac and sassafras and other sweet-sounding words.
Right from the first, I could see a calmness in you – that sort of inner tranquility that they write about in books, but that almost no one seems to possess. I was wondering to myself: how does she do that? And I figured it could only come from having no regrets – from having made choices with . . . such poise and purpose. It stopped me in my tracks a little. And I just couldn't wait to see it again.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A chance encounter with a handsome banker in a jazz bar on New Year's Eve 1938 catapults Wall Street secretary Katey Kontent into the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multi-millionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow.

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