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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility (edition 2012)

by Amor Towles

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1,5841284,603 (4.03)83
Title:Rules of Civility
Authors:Amor Towles
Info:Large Print Press (2012), Edition: Lrg, Paperback, 577 pages
Collections:Your library

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

1930s (92) 1938 (14) 2011 (11) 2012 (33) 2013 (14) 20th century (10) American (11) American literature (15) book club (17) ebook (22) fiction (184) friendship (36) historical (24) historical fiction (95) jazz (14) Kindle (23) literary fiction (12) New York (76) New York City (92) novel (13) read (14) read in 2011 (11) read in 2012 (19) read in 2013 (9) relationships (28) romance (23) society (13) to-read (103) unread (9) USA (9)
  1. 10
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Cecilturtle)
  2. 00
    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.
  3. 01
    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.

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Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
The Great Gatsby set in the late 1930's is the best way I can characterize this novel. The story centers around Katey Kontent, a bright young women from a Russian immigrant family on her own as a young working woman in 1938 Manhattan. The tone is witty and elegant, the writing peculiarly spare. We learn about Katey more through observation than through description of her character or any analysis on her part. She seems remarkably well assimilate to be born of immigrants into an immigrant neighborhood, fitting in with the bluebloods with amazing ease. The glittering world of Manhattan is a well-drawn backdrop to the play of her life, including a boarding-house friendship with midwestern Eve and a chance meeting with Tinker Grey that changes the arc of all of their lives.

I enjoyed the book, truly I did. However, it felt shallow to me, reliant on crisp language and unlikely encounters to tell a story that I was never sure I believed. I hesitate to recommend. ( )
  wareagle78 | Jul 21, 2014 |
Loved this wonderful Period Piece ( )
  GiGi4two | Jul 12, 2014 |
I've developed a habit in my book reading of skimming through certain long descriptions, boring conversations, etc. in order to move ahead to more interesting parts. I would say this happens in nearly 100% of my books to one extent or another. But this book was the exception; there was no need for skimming whatsoever. I read every single, perfectly-placed word, and savored them all.

I love a New York setting, love this time period (1930s), and I love Katey Kontent. She could do no wrong in my book...or this book. She is a paradox but one that I think more of us can identify with than with Eve, her social climbing friend. Katey is just a surprisingly wonderful character, especially considering she's created by a first-time, male author. And what she did when given a certain apartment key--laugh out loud precious.

I cannot name a single flaw - what an intelligent, fun, great story! ( )
  kdabra4 | Jun 21, 2014 |
[Rules of Civility] begins in 1966 in New York City when Katey Kontent is just that - content. She's married, wealthy and has a successful career. She and her husband are at a photography exhibit opening when she stumbles upon a photo of a man she knew in 1938. He's ragged and has obviously fallen on hard times. Not the same Tinker Grey she knew when she was in her 20s.

Thus we are transported back to 1938 just after the Depression and right before WWII. Prohibition has been repealed. Katey's character also sits between two big phases. She's no longer a child since her Russian father died, but she's just beginning to steer her own life. On New Years Eve she hits the town with her charismatic roommate Eve and together they meet Tinker who will change both of their lives forever.

Doesn't every review say that? "It will change their lives forever." It's almost a cliche, but this book is exactly about that. Katey is looking back at her 20s and reminiscing that by meeting Tinker her life went one way when it could have gone another. So it is with the jobs she quits and takes. The people she meets. The choice she makes. It's a book of reflection. Of figuring out your own character amongst that of exerting forces. It's beautiful, well written and atmospheric. The author makes you taste the martinis and inhale the cigarette smoke while you sit back and have a drink with the characters. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote RosyLibrarian | Jun 15, 2014 |
Many of the reviews of Rules of Civility compare the book to The Great Gatsby and I can see that connection. But the story that came to my mind when I read Amor Towles' novel was Breakfast at Tiffany's (the movie more than the novella which I read too many years ago to discuss). Both stories take place in New York and seem to celebrate the city's whirlwind culture. Also, Tinker Grey has a connection to Paul Varjak that is obvious at the end. But the greatest link is in the characters of Eve Ross and Holly Golightly. They are both young women who have come to the city from rural settings determined to make a life for themselves – primarily by finding the right (i.e. wealthy) men.

Katie Kontent is the narrator and primary character in Rules of Civility, so I find it interesting that Towles decided to follow up his novel with a short story collection about Eve rather than continuing with Katie's story. I like that choice. Katie's character was a little too knowledgeable to be believable. She knew the current culture enough to recognize jazz numbers, recite specific lines of poetry by poets she hadn't brought up, and recognize the work of contemporary artists when she happened to see their paintings hanging. She was like a walking culture encyclopedia, but nobody ever commented on her wealth of knowledge. Instead Tinker simply found her a more interesting conversationalist than her roommate. This read as if the author was intruding his own interests on the story.

Towles has received some criticism from other reviewers because Katie seems to think from a male perspective. I agree that her first description of Eve reads as if it was written by a man with a very romantic view of women. But after that I wasn't bothered by thoughts that seemed masculine. Of course, women would naturally be more sensitive to that issue than a male reader.

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Rebecca Lowman. I found her even toned, slightly apathetic interpretation perfect for the sophisticated feel of this novel, so I would recommend listening to this one.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Jun 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (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 sherton | editKirkus Review (Jun 1, 2011)
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—Matthew 22:8-14
For Maggie, my comet
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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.
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670022691, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011 Set during the hazy, enchanting, and martini-filled world of New York City circa 1938, Rules of Civility follows three friends--Katey, Eve, and Tinker--from their chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year's Eve through a year of enlightening and occasionally tragic adventures. Tinker orbits in the world of the wealthy; Katey and Eve stretch their few dollars out each evening on the town. While all three are complex characters, Katey is the story's shining star. She is a fully realized heroine, unique in her strong sense of self amidst her life's continual fluctuations. Towles' writing also paints an inviting picture of New York City, without forgetting its sharp edges. Reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Rules of Civility is full of delicious sentences you can sit back and savor (most appropriately with a martini or two). --Caley Anderson

A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.

Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.

Amor Towles's Rules of Civility Playlist

You can listen to the playlist here.

While jazz is not central to the narrative of Rules of Civility, the music and its various formulations are an important component of the book’s backdrop.

On the night of January 16, 1938, Benny Goodman assembled a bi-racial orchestra to play jazz to a sold-out Carnegie Hall--the first jazz performance in the hallowed hall and one which is now famous for bringing jazz (and black performers) to a wider audience. I am not a jazz historian, but for me the concert marks something of a turning point in jazz itself--from the big-band, swing-era sound that dominated the 1930s (and which the orchestra emphasized on stage that night) towards the more introspective, smaller group styles that would soon spawn bebop and its smoky aftereffects (ultimately reaching an apogee with Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue in 1957). For it is also in 1938 that Coleman Hawkins recorded the bebop antecedent "Body & Soul" and Minton’s Playhouse, one of the key bebop gathering spots, opened in Harlem. By 1939, Blue Note Records was recording, and Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk were all congregating in New York City. From 1935-1939, Goodman himself was stepping out of the big-band limelight to make more intimate improvisational recordings with a quartet including Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton.

My assertion of this as a turning point (like most such assertions) is rough, inexact and misleading, but it helps give shape to an evolution and bring into relief two ends of a jazz spectrum. On the big-band front, the power of the music naturally springs from the collective and orchestration. In numbers like "Sing, Sing, Sing," the carefully layered, precisely timed waning and waxing of rhythm and instrumentation towards moments of unified musical ecstasy simply demand that the audience collaborate through dance, cheers, and other outward expressions of joy. While in the smaller groups of bebop and beyond, the expressive power springs more from the soloist and his personal exploration of the music, his instrument, and his emotional state at that precise moment in time. This inevitably inspires in the listener a cigarette, a scotch, and a little more introspection. In a sense, the two ends of this jazz spectrum are like the public/private paradox of Walker Evans’s subway photographs (and of life in the metropolis itself.)

If you are interested, I have created an playlist of music from roughly 1935-1945 that spans this transition. The playlist is not meant to be comprehensive or exact. Among other items, it includes swinging live performances from Goodman’s Carnegie Hall Concert as well as examples of his smaller group work; there are precursors to bebop like Coleman Hawkins and some early Charlie Parker. As a strange historical footnote, there was a strike in 1942–1944 by the American Federation of Musicians, during which no official recordings were made. As such, this period at the onset of bebop was virtually undocumented and thus the records of 1945 reflect something of a culmination of early bebop rather than its starting point. The playlist also reflects the influence of the great American songbook giants (Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, the Gershwins), many of whom were at the height of their powers in the 1930s. --Amor Towles

Listen to the playlist

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:25 -0400)

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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 asingle-minded widow.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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