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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,9642182,899 (4.03)1 / 226
  1. 42
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Cecilturtle)
  2. 21
    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
    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.
  4. 00
    Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (sidiki)
  5. 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.

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English (216)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (218)
Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
What a disappointment. I really wanted to like this story of Katey Kontent, a plucky young woman making her way in 1930s New York. When Katey and her friend Eve meet handsome, dashing Tinker Grey, they find themselves in a new and more affluent social circle. New contacts also provide Katey with a path out of the steno pool into publishing, and the means to live in her own apartment instead of a boardinghouse.

Okay, so that’s a good start, right? But oh, the writing: it’s dreadful. My irritation began with Towles’ overuse of elaborate similes, e.g., “four blondes sat in a row comparing notes like a conspiracy of crows on a telephone wire.” Character development was lacking; even the main protagonists seemed like paper cutouts conforming to stereotypes, and the large supporting cast was even more shallow. The storyline was too loose and lacked emotional depth. Once I started spotting errors in the text it was all over. Someone’s hair was “tussled” (not “tousled”). There were factual errors regarding the design of English postage stamps, and the “coastal” drive from Southampton to London.

This was Amor Towles’ debut novel, and it shows. His second book, A Gentleman in Moscow, is so much better. Skip this one and read that instead. ( )
  lauralkeet | Jun 13, 2019 |
4.5 stars!

I really loved this book! Great characters, love story, and writing. I couldn't put it down. ( )
  ellenmartin | May 27, 2019 |
I loved the author's A Gentleman in Moscow, so I decided I'd give this one a try, I did like it, but not quite as much. The narration by Rebecca Lowman added to this story of a couple of women in (mostly) 1939 New York who meet a rich, eligible man, and the three become friends. It starts years later, and the story looks backward, about how things can change and how they can stay the same. There is not a lot of action in this story, but it's not that kind of story. The atmosphere of the period and the place, the now badly outdated slang of the times, add to the story. In my opinion, not quite as good as A Gentleman, but still well worth reading. ( )
  TooBusyReading | May 24, 2019 |
The author succinctly summarizes the plot of this novel through its protagonist, Katey Kontent:

The year 1938 had been one in which four people of great color and character had held welcome sway over my life. And here it was December 31, 1940, and I hadn't seen a single one of them in over a year.

It is 1938, the Great Depression is nearing an end but the premonitions of WWII are on the horizon. On New Years Eve 1937, 25-year-old Katey and her best friend, Eve Ross, both from the same boarding house, decide to celebrate the holiday together. When the two encounter a dapper young man, Theodore "Tinker" Grey, Eve calls dibs but over time it seems that Katey and Tinker have a stronger connection. As these three meet on and off during the next couple of months, the number of friends grow.

Having read and loved this author's subsequent novel, The Gentleman in Moscow, I was torn whether or not to read his first, much different, first book. I'm thrilled that Mr. Towles did not let me down. I believe that his works will be considered classics in fifty years or so. Damn! Can this man write. What a gift for the metaphor. Examples I highlighted are:

After the Crash, you couldn't hear the bodies hitting the pavement, but there was a sort of communal gasp and then a stillness that fell over the city like snow.


Her last-minute dress was a red silk number with a scooped neckline, and she had apparently traded up to her best support bra--because the tops of her breasts could be seen from fifty feet in a fog.

The author so clearly describes the setting, mood and the characters so well that I easily found myself walking in the snow of Greenwich Village, entering jazz clubs and becoming one of Katety's friends. I'm looking forward to his next book. ( )
1 vote John_Warner | Mar 22, 2019 |
Again, just like The Gentleman from Moscow, it's hard for me to put a Towles novel down... lots of great New York City/uppercrust 1930s society details-backdrop, and more than a little echoes of Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby... some readers may not appreciate that, but I loved it. Katey is almost a female Nick from TGG.... keeping her nerve with the low & highborn, more of a watcher, not an instigator, and a midWesterner who expects forthrightness, or at least integrity, from those around her. In fact - no time to note the exact passages now- Towles is also playing with the progression of the plot, and esp Tucker, now destitute and a working stiff on the docks, walks to the end of the pier at night and looks across at the lights of Manhatten... oh yes, a homage here to the green light -Daisy's dock that the mysterious Jay Gatsby stands and looks at across the water.
Interesting characters - kept me reading until the end... ( )
  BDartnall | Feb 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 216 (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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—Matthew 22:8-14
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.
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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