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Rules of Civility

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  60,419 ratings  ·  7,247 reviews
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 335 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by Viking Adult (first published 2011)
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Sandy Bergeson
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Rules of Civility by Amor TowlesTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenAtonement by Ian McEwanThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Best 1930s Historical Fiction
1st out of 62 books — 128 voters
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince by Cassandra ClareDelirium by Lauren OliverSilence by Becca FitzpatrickUnearthly by Cynthia Hand
Best Books of 2011
112th out of 2,242 books — 7,068 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Anne
The prologue to this novel takes place at an exhibition of photographs by Walker Evans in 1966. The author tells us that Evans had waited 25 years to show these photos to the public due to a concern for the subjects' privacy. The photos are taken with a hidden camera in the NYC subway car and "captured a certain naked humanity." Kate sees an old friend, Tinker Grey in two of these pictures. In one he's clean shaven, wearing a custom shirt and a cashmere coat. In a photo dated one year later he l ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This is just delightful fun. It's a love letter, a limerick, a lollipop, a literary longing. Grab your shaker of martinis and your cocktail onions and take a ride with Katey Kontent through the streets of 1938 Manhattan. She's just a working girl trying to make it on her own, but with the right (or wrong?) friends, she manages to borrow a little glamour...and a helping or two of trouble besides.

The book is not without its flaws. I was only going to rate it four stars. After I read the epilogue
...more
Jeffrey Keeten
”She was indisputably a natural blonde. Her shoulder-length hair, which was sandy in summer, turned golden in the fall as if in sympathy with the wheat fields back home. She had fine features and blue eyes and pinpoint dimples so perfectly defined that it seemed like there must be a small steel cable fastened to the center of each inner cheek which grew taut when she smiled. True, she was only five foot five, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels--and she knew how to kick them off as soon ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
If a novel could win an award for best cinematography, this would take home the gold. Amor Towles's sophisticated retro-era novel of manners captures Manhattan 1938 with immaculate lucidity and a silvery focus on the gin and the jazz, the nightclubs and the streets, the pursuit of sensuality, and the arc of the self-made woman.

The novel's preface opens in 1966, with a happily married couple attending a Walker Evans photography exhibition. An unlikely chance encounter stuns the woman, Katey--a pi
...more
Cynthia
Immigrants or Trust Funds?

“Rules of Civility” is a love story for a city. Specifically New York City during the last few years of the 1930’s. That’s not to say that Towles's characters aren’t fully realized. They are. In fact the dialog is outstanding. When a character opens their mouth you know immediately if they haunt the docks or Park Avenue. At one point the three principle protagonists are out larking and sneak into a Marx Brothers movie. Think of how exaggerated the accents and mannerisms
...more
Dolors
Dec 04, 2013 Dolors rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literary Sybarites
Recommended to Dolors by: Jeffrey Keeten
Shelves: read-in-2013
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The road not taken by Robert Frost.

Katey Kontent stands on her balcony overlooking Central Park in 1966 and reflects on the journey of her life and the road she chose to walk more than twenty years ago. Vulnerable and voluptuous like Billie Holiday’s voice in “Autumn in New York”, Katey remembers the one and only genuine love of her life, the irresistible banker Tinker Grey. “For many are c
...more
Robert
This is the rare example of a book that makes you appreciate the art of writing. It is indeed remarkable that this first time author has created a debut novel that succeeds in every way. Mr. Towles has crafted a true masterpiece. This stylish, elegant and deliberately anachronistic debut novel transports readers back to Manhattan in 1938, where authentic, human characters inhabit a playground that comes alive with the manners of a society on the verge of radical upheaval.

This book is art deco, j
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Blargh, I'd been having such good luck with Goodreads Choice finalists.

I really should have put it down after page two, when the female, working-class narrator describes her roommate as follows:

"Eve was one of those surprising beauties from the American Midwest.
In New York it becomes so easy to assume that the city's most alluring women have flown in from Paris or Milan. But they're just a minority. A much larger covey hails from the stalwart states that begin with the letter I--like Iowa or Ind
...more
Elaine
Jul 07, 2013 Elaine rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This book was strange for me, at points, it was a 5, at other points a 1. There were passages (usually not parts of the narrative, but Katy's aphorisms - presumably the product of her middle-aged mind looking back) that moved me nearly to tears. These little nuggets are Katy's own "Rules of Civility" and they made the book worth reading. (E.g., "Right choices are the means by which life crystallizes loss.").

But those little tidbits are not the bulk of this quite plotty pacey novel, which is a fa
...more
Chrissie
In summary, I loved listening to this audiobook. Why? First of all, this book is a must for anyone who loves NYC. Secondly, almost every line refers to places and books and artists. There is a wonderful message. The author is a master of metaphor. Most every sentence implies more than the bare words. One example: Katey pronounces her surname Kon-TENT. Don't you see the difference between that and KON-tent? Think about it. The plot throws you a looper. The characters become real people .In the be ...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Oct 23, 2012 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: 1930's New York fan's
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Shelli Bentley
Entertaining - light but not fluffy - what it does best is capture the high drama of being a New Yorker during the late 30’s. A city where the upper class live large and lavish, hang out in jazz bars, frequent hotels like The Plaza & Essex House and generally fritter their lives away drinking & smoking up a storm. Katey Kontent, a social climber extraordinaire and her flaky friend Eve hobnob with rich elitists with names like (seriously) Tinker, Dicky & Bitsy… Throw in a bitter strug ...more
Carol
Sep 05, 2011 Carol rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of period pieces, books with settings that are like characters
Recommended to Carol by: Anne Reach & other friends on GoodReads
Shelves: debut, fiction
It's really hard to put my finger on what made me like Rules of Civility so much. I'm partial to debut novels and their authors so when 4 to 5 star reviews started pouring in on GoodReads for this book, I quickly added it to my list.

The setting of New York, the city would not normally make me clamor to read this book, but the 1938 New York that Rules of Civility depicts captured me right away. I can only believe this is due to Amor Towles ability as a writer. The story seems fairly simple. Two
...more
Algernon
Nov 21, 2013 Algernon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Algernon by: Jeffrey Keeten
Shelves: 2013, favorites

What were you afraid of as a kid?
What did you always want that your parents never gave you?
If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be?
If you could relive one year in your life, which one would you be?


Strangers in the night, two girls and a young man, meet and try to discover each other through a little game of 'what if ...' Sounds like my GR friend Dan and his Ongoing Security Question Quiz, or like that running gag in The Way We Were when Robert Redford picks up the best of every
...more
Sarah
I waffled between a one or two star rating, but I'm not feeling particularly generous today, so one star it is.

Basically: upper-class middle-aged man tries to write as/about working-class young woman. And fails. I think I enjoyed about the first twenty pages of this one, and the rest just fell utterly flat. First of all, the main character (with the terrible name of Katey Kontent) was completely unconvincing and not at all compelling. It's rare that men can write convincingly in a female voice,
...more
Teresa
May 06, 2012 Teresa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Teresa by: Cynthia
As my friend Sue said in her review, so much has already been said about this novel (at least among my group of GR friends) that I'm not sure I have anything new to add. I can't think of an aspect of this book that isn't well-done.

My friend Cynthia mentions in her review three of the characters viewing a Marx Brothers movie to point out that this story is not one of stereotypes. It is also at this point that I hoped the novel wouldn't be just a series of madcap adventures by three smart, kooky t
...more
Alena
I cannot possibly write a review that reflects the intelligence and sophistication of this book. Integrating art, photography and literature into his portrait of 1938 New York, Amor Towles also tells a great story about the choices made by one young woman -- Kate/Katey/Katherine Kontent, and her friends.

Kate is smart, funny, unpredictable and determined, all qualities that make a fine heroine. But she's also imperfect, which makes her infinitely more interesting. Likewise the characters that int
...more
K
Well, it started out as a four-star, drifted down to three, and eventually thudded at two. Clearly I missed something, because beautiful sentences notwithstanding, this book just didn't do it for me.

Katey Kontent, who really needed a subtler last name, is a 1930s single woman on her own working in a secretarial pool and living in a women's boardinghouse. On New Year's Eve, drinking with her roommate Eve, she meets the debonair Tinker Grey and becomes part of first one, then another, love triangl
...more
Sue
So much has been said about this book here and elsewhere that I'm not sure what else to add. I did love this book for many reasons: The sense of time and place, the wonderful use of language (love the use of metaphor), sparkling dialog and internal narration, and wonderful descriptions of New York City itself that raise its presence to another character.

We have all lived through our twenties (or most of us through most of that decade). So much happens, so many decisions are made that impact our
...more
Deborah
While the writing was crisp and fit well with the era and the characters, I was disappointed with the story. It was character-driven, which is usually fine with me, but the characters weren't interesting enough. I couldn't overcome what I felt was a shallow-ness to both the story and the characters. And the story felt too derivative: from Edith Wharton (House of Mirth) to Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's)and in the end, it left me feeling melancholy with no purpose.

Aspho
[Review also appeared on Amazon.co.uk]

I decided to read "The Rules of Civility" because the blurb on the Amazon page mentioned a jazz quartet in 1937 and stated that the protagonist, Katey Kontent, knew " how to type eighty words a minute, five thousand an hour, and nine million a year and that if you can still lose yourself in the first chapter of a Dickens novel then everything is probably going to be fine". With those two lines, I had already identified with Ms Kontent, despite the fact that
...more
LeeAnne
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

One of the most entertaining and enjoyable books I have ever read. I love the way this author writes.



The story actually opens in 1966 at the Museum of Modern Art during the first exhibit of portraits taken by a famous photographer, Walker Evans. He waited 25 years to show these photos to the public, out of respect for the subjects' privacy. The photos were taken with a hidden camera in NYC subway cars. Unaware they were being photographed, the subjects let their
...more
Blair
As cool, sophisticated and elegant as its characters, Rules of Civility is an ice-cold gin & tonic of a novel. The protagonist is twenty-something secretary Katey Kontent (and one of the things that put me off reading this sooner is that I thought this name was so silly: it's to the book's credit that I forgot about that very quickly). The setting is the New York City of the late 1930s. Katey and her beautiful best friend, Eve, have a chance meeting with a debonair young banker - Theodore 'T ...more
Michael
Hard for me to get too excited about this nostalgic tale. It is great on tone and atmosphere in the life it portrays for Manhattan social climbers in 1938. The story told by Katie in retrospect from middle-age strives strives to be wise about life’s choices and the power of friendship to guide such choices with true integrity. But the paradoxes of Katie’s character makes it hard for me to buy-in well on her plausibility.

In her early 20’s, Katie moves from Brighton Beach to Manhattan, takes a job
...more
☮Karen
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 boo
...more
Jen
This was a terrific read. I love this era with women joining the workforce; friendships; dancing and fun. Great character development and just an overall feeling of reminiscing of the times. A feel good novel.
Becky
It took me a long time to finish this book, way longer than I expected. Though I think the main character was smart, witty, snappy and fun, I felt that the story itself lacked a little focus. It wasn't until about two thirds of the way through that I realized what the arc was. Several times characters were reintroduced, and I had to seriously jog my memory to remember their first appearance or relevance. If it hadn't taken so long to read the first time, I'd probably read it again now that I "ge ...more
Chris
I don’t know what it was about this book, but I just adored it. The story line harkened back to the time of “The Great Gatsby,” and although I looked for a slip up in terms of authenticity, I found none. The writing was superb and at times, I found myself giggling. “I poured myself a gin that was sized to make my apartment seem less depressing and sat in my father’s chair.”

For a first-time novelist who makes his living working in a Manhattan investment firm(!), Towles crafted a story that was f
...more
Richard
Feb 22, 2013 Richard rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Richard by: Tamra
It is easy to say that this is an incredible book; what is difficult is figuring out how to say it in a way that is one tenth as elegant as the book is. The New York Times review, Romantic Mischief in 1930s Manhattan , is a pleasant homage but really never communicates how enticing the book is —how easy it is to drift along with Towles’ story like the good buzz of a well-set dinner party with plenty of good wine and clever friends. I know Oprah has the book pretty high on her list, but was she ...more
Noeleen
Rating 4.5 stars

Amor Towles if this is your debut novel, I will be waiting, gin or martini in hand, to eagerly devour your next novel. Set in New York at the end of the 1930s, Rules of Civility is so well written and appealing, that as I was reading it, I imagined it all in black and white. I felt truly transported to New York of the 1930s for the few days it took me to read this book...the social scene, the restaurants, the bars, the work place, the fashion, the music, the parties, the glam and
...more
Connie
The debut novel Rules of Civility by Amor Towles did what every book should....it transported me and made me feel like I was an eye witness to this story. I travelled the year of 1938 with Katey Kontent who is the narrator of this wonderful, but rather sad story.

The writing was so well done,so lyrical,that I could "hear" the keys of typewriters in the secretarial pool, the arguing neighbors in Katey's cheap apartment building, and the sounds of bluesy jazz as the background to a rowdy and lou
...more
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Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. He is a Principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children."
More about Amor Towles...
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“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.” 209 likes
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