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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
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Oct 04, 12

Read from March 10 to 21, 2012

What a marvelous book is "Rules of Civility" by first time novelist Amor Towles. Set in New York, it is a year (1938) in the life of Katy Kontent. A bright and attractive secretary to a law firm, her life is transformed when she and her friend Evie Ross meet the apparently wealthy Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve. This is a slightly implausible introduction to the high and mighty of Manhattan, but is nonetheless highly glamorous and entertaining. Katy narrates with style and panache as can be seen from the following extracts:
"One night in April, I was standing in the Wall Street stop of the IRT, waiting to hoi polloi home. It had been twenty minutes since the previous train and the platform was crowded with hats and sighs and roughly folded afternoon editions. On the ground nearby was an overstuffed valise bound with string. But for the absence of children, it could have been a way station in the time of war."

"When Eve and I lived at the boarding house we shared our wardrobe with the other girls on the floor and we always looked smart on a Saturday night. But when I moved out, I had something of a rude awakening - I discovered all the fun clothes had been theirs. I apparently owned all the frumpy utilitarian numbers".

The sandwich: "the menu defined as unparallelled, world famous and legendary. When Tinker asked if I had ever had it, I told him I'd always found the description a little too long on adjectives and a little too short on specifics".

When Katy is obtuse about her work at a law firm, Tinker retorts "You're a little too long on adjectives and short on specifics yourself".

Reading a letter from Tinker and Eve: "Really. Is there anything nice to be said about other people's vacations? I balled up the letter and threw it in the trash".

"In 1936, the great French architect Le Corbusier published a little book called When Cathedrals Were White detailing his first trip to New York........After reading that book, when you walked along Fifth Avenue and you looked up at those towers, you felt that any one of them might lead you to the hen that laid the golden eggs".

There is also one brilliant.platonic relationship she has with rich Wallace Wolcott. The most endearing and wonderful affair you could ever imagine. A truly great book.
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