Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Completion Date: August 27, 2011
Reason for Reading: Fun!
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.
I had been following along with the hype surrounding this book and I was a bit intrigued. It just worked out that I was the first person to request it from the library, so I didn't have to wait too long. I am not sure if I would have read it if the reviews got too overblown. I actually get tired of reading about the same books over and over again. It's better if I read them before that happens. Otherwise, I either buy them and they sit on my TBR pile forever or I just intentionally wait until the reviews get a bit quieter. There are many things I enjoy about blogging, but this is a problem that I have. Anyway, so I read this book in a timely enough manner that I wasn't clouded too much about what other people thought about it. I have to say I really enjoyed it. I love the time period, the characters, the setting...

So, I am going to talk about this book today with Chris from Chrisbookarama. I have the first part of the review and she will have the second part.
Chris: I had seen Rules of Civility on a couple of blogs and the Blogher Book Club had it as a selection last month. It had good reviews. I could have picked up the print version but when I saw the audio book on the library site, I downloaded it. What made you read it?

Kelly: I have seen a lot of reviews about it and I really enjoy the time frame it is set during, so I knew it was something I was going to have to read. I just happened to be on the page for new books at the library soon after it was added it, so I was the first person that received it. It’s strange with me. Sometimes hyped up books lead me to avoid them like the plague until the hype dies down, but then in instances like this I want to read them ASAP. What was it about the book that lead you to read it sooner rather than later?

Chris: I’d been on a 1930s kick as well. I’d listened to The Paris Wife and my book club was going to read A Moveable Feast. It seemed like something that would fit in well with those books. I actually found that it had the feeling of The Paris Wife as I was listening. It’s very literary and Katey has the kind of life that Hemingway would have approved of. Very artsy and bohemian- with lots of drinking. Sometimes it made me think of The Great Gatsby too, with all the wealthy people doing very little all day and partying at night. What did you think of Katey?

Kelly: I really liked Katey. I wasn’t sure about her in the beginning, but as she started to grow as a character she became very interesting. She started out a woman of her time and became so much more. It was interesting to see her interact in the world she found herself in. She thinks that she is happy, but she was just not thinking outside the box enough. She was a bit of a wild child in a dull job. She takes control of her life, though, and makes some very drastic changes that entirely changed the direction her life was headed in. She is still a bit of a wild child, but there is more behind her than that. What did you think of her?

Chris: I appreciated her independence and her cleverness. I admired how she could adapt to any situation and how easily she made friends. There were moments that I felt she was too harsh, like how she treated Charlotte who was just trying to make friends. It was as if she couldn’t make time for uninteresting people. For the most part though, I did like her. I was quite surprised at how early in the novel her relationship with Eve and Tinker changed. I didn’t not expect that whole thing to happen. Were you surprised by that?

Kelly: Yeah, she could be a bit mean to people. She had a vision and had no time for people that didn’t fit that image, I guess. I wasn’t sure what to think about Eve, Tinker, and Katey. I thought that they were going to stay like that throughout the book, but obviously it wouldn’t have been the same book if the friendship remained the same. Actually, everything changed in just one scene and then was never really the same again. I thought the friendship between the three would be the central theme to the book, but many times it got regulated into the background. I think I expected something different from this book, but I wasn’t disappointed. What did you think of Eve and Tinker as characters?

Chris: Eve was enigmatic. I couldn’t figure her out. I didn’t know why she wanted so much distance between herself and her family, who obviously loved her. I don’t think she ever knew what she wanted and the accident didn’t help much. My thoughts on Tinker changed so much toward the end of the book. He became sort of tragic, and at the same time he was happier than ever. At one point Katey talks about people being butterflies, showing the world two sides of themselves, all three were like that, especially Katey.

My favorite character was Wallace. I loved that guy. At first, I thought he was just going to be one of those characters- ones that pop up once to make things awkward for the protagonist and then disappear. I was pleasantly surprised to see where the author went with that him. The secondary characters added so much to the story. What did you think of Wallace? And Anne?

Head over to Chris' blog to read the rest of the review!

This book counts for the Historical Fiction Challenge.


  1. Thanks for discussing the book with me!

  2. This looks like a book I'd like to read. It certainly has that F. Scott Fitzgerald feel to it - even the title sounds intriguing!

  3. Oh boy, I'm so eager to read this one! I agree about a book getting too hyped for me to read, though, and I also get sick of seeing the same novels all over the place. But everything about this one appeals to me. Enjoyed your interview format when discussing Rules of Civility, and it's definitely going on my wishlist!

  4. What a fun way to do a book review!


  5. Sounds good--such a fascinating era!
    I've seen mention of the book somewhere else, but can't remember where. Now, I'm interested.

  6. There sure has been a lot of hype surrounding this book. I've been debating on whether to pick it up or not as I wasn't sure it totally sounded like something I would like. They had it on Global news a few weeks back raving about it too. I guess I may have to pick it up after all. Glad you liked it!

  7. I love reading reviews like this- so creative. As far as the book- meh. I'm like you, too much hype and I lose interest. but this does sound like fun!

  8. **Chris: It was a lot of fun! I look forward to doing another one together. :)

    **Trish: I have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald... Shame! I have read about him, though..

    **Meg: I am glad I am not the only one that feels like that. I was always worried people might take it the wrong way.

    **jehara: I really enjoy buddy reviews. :)

    **jenclair: I think I would be safe in saying you would like this book...

    **Darlene: I really enjoy the time period, so I knew it was something I was going to have to read at some point...

    **Marie: Thanks! The book was really good, though. I am glad I was able to read it before I was chased away!


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