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Rules of Civility

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This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

335 pages, Hardcover

First published July 26, 2011

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About the author

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for over twenty years, he now devotes himself fulltime to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film and its French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Louis Dispatch, and NPR. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages.

Mr. Towles, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children, is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, obsolete accessories, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 19,808 reviews
Profile Image for Anne .
428 reviews337 followers
December 30, 2020
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 a NYC subway car and "captured a certain naked humanity." Katey, our protagonist, 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 looks underweight and dirty in a threadbare coat.

This novel tells the story of what happened during that year which changed Tinker Grey so much. It starts 25 years earlier, in flashback, telling the story of not only Tinker, but also Katey and others with picture perfect descriptions of 1938 New York City, the highlights of that period, and it's inhabitants. Towles writes as though through the lens of a camera. But unlike Evans' subway photos of "naked humanity," Towles has a light, empathic touch when it comes to people - the angles never harsh, just true. And how appropriate that the underlying theme of this book is about how much people expose or hide their true lives, how much is deception or reality. As Katey says, "we give people the liberty of fashioning themselves in the moment - a span of time that is so much more manageable, stageable, controllable than is a lifetime."

Justice is another theme in the novel. Do those people in the subway get a life that they deserve? What about the rich Wall Street types? Katey becomes a fan of Agatha Christie at a point in the novel when she is hurt, angry and concerned about whether justice exists in the world. She likes Agatha Christie's universe "where everyone gets what they deserve.... and a destiny that suits them." Literature lovers will enjoy several other allusions to and quotes from other writers. Some readers may also get a chuckle out of Katey's tendency to start a book somewhere in the middle.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me was the laugh out loud funny repartee and the witty narrative voice that often highlighted Katey's wise and strong personality. In an emotional moment, she tells the reader: "As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion....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."

One of the markers of a good novel for me is whether I miss the characters after I've finished it. I'm feeling very bereft at the moment, unable to move on to another novel and hoping for a sequel.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
December 12, 2019
”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 as she sat in your lap.”

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Lower Manhattan 1938.

Eve Ross, a New York transplant from Indiana, is one of those friends that manages to always have a good time whether she is in a jazz club or on her way to a funeral. She is an energy vampire. She takes it. She gives it. As one party ends another one begins. Katey Kontent is Eve’s sidekick. She was born in New York and enjoys the octane fueled experiences with her friend, but she can never throw herself into the fray quite the way Eve does. She’s always more reserved, more willing to observe and ponder events rather than be lost in the moment.

It is 1938.

They meet Tinker Grey, a well groomed, well heeled banker who is a man in need of a good time and Eve and Katey are the right two gals to provide it. He has the money. They have the energy. Katey is used to taking a backseat to Eve and as their dueling relationship starts to evolve with Tinker it is no secret that as much as Tinker appreciates Eve he is developing a serious crush on Katey. Eve is a force of nature and provides the whirlwind effect to any outing, but if a guy wants a moment to have a quiet drink and a deeper conversation Katey is the right ticket.

--”Eve leaned toward Tinker confidentially.
--Katey’s the hottest bookworm you’ll ever meet. If you took all the books that she’s read and piled them in a stack, you could climb to the Milky Way.
--The Milky Way!
--Maybe the Moon, I conceded.”

She is HOT and she READS? YOWZA! She reads everything from Charles Dickens to Agatha Christie and appreciates that pendulum of reading experiences equally and for different reasons.

”I read a lot of Agatha Christies that fall of 1938--maybe all of them. The Hercule Poirots, the Miss Marples. Death on the Nile. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Murders...on the Links...at the Vicarage, and, ...on the Orient Express.

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I read them on the subway, at the deli and in my bed alone.
You can make what claims you will about the psychological nuance of Proust or the narrative scope of Tolstoy, but you can’t argue that Mrs. Christie fails to please. Her books are tremendously satisfying.
Yes, they’re formulaic. But that’s one of the reasons they are so satisfying. With every character, every room, every murder weapon feeling at once newly crafted and familiar as rote ( the role of the postimperialist uncle from India here being played by the spinster form South Wales, and the mismatched bookends standing in for the jar of fox poison on the upper shelf of the gardener’s shed). Mrs. Christie doles out her little surprises at the carefully calibrated pace of a nanny dispensing sweets to the children in her care.”

If you are still not sure that you want to be friends with Katey Kontent than how about this.

”In retrospect, my cup of coffee has been the works of Charles Dickens. Admittedly, there’s something a little annoying about all those plucky underprivileged kids and the aptly named agents of villainy. But I’ve come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine.”

Katey when she needs a moment of contemplation, a place to be alone with her thoughts she finds an empty church. I too find a church most spiritual between services when the thunder of religious verbosity is dissipating into the distance. In New York such churches are works of art, good for the soul and the intellectual mind.

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St. Patrick’s New York

”St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street is a pretty powerful example of early nineteenth-century American Gothic. Made of white marble quarried from upstate New York, the Walls must be four feet thick. The stained-glass windows were made by craftsmen from Chartres. Tiffany designed two of the altars and a Medici designed the third. And the Pieta in the southeast corner is twice the size of Michelangelo’s. In fact, the whole place is so well made that as the Good Lord sees about His daily business, He can pass right over St. Patrick’s confident that those inside will take pretty good care of themselves.”

There is a car accident and Eve is hurt the worse of the three. Guilt, a powerful tool, swings all of Tinker’s attention to Eve. Any burgeoning relationship he has with Katey comes to a skidding halt with the shattering of glass and a great beauty marred by scars. They don’t see as much of each other, but when they do there is still a trip of a heartbeat.

She can’t get him out of her head.

He isn’t who he seems.

He is more and less than what she believed.

Tinker’s brother provides a little insight into what makes Tinker more than the sum of his parts.

”Never mind that he speaks five languages and could find his way safely home from Cairo or the Congo. What he’s got they can’t teach in schools. They can squash it, maybe; but they sure can’t teach it.
--And what’s that?
--That’s right. Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell out our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean gawking at the Chrysler Building. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The tale of the shoeshine. Walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart.

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Mother Nature competing with Tiffany

Yeah, I know, I had to take a moment and spend a little time thinking about that line as well. I do know that perfection, those amazing moments where everything lines up from the moon to the breeze are few and far between. They need to be logged, carefully wrapped in gossamer, and placed in the deepest, safest vault of your memories so that when things go to crap they can be retrieved, savored, and hope can be restored that more of those moments are in your future. Life can never take everything away from you. Like most of us Katey doesn’t end up anywhere near where she expected, but 1938 is a year of those gossamer wrapped memories that can bring a whimsical smile to her lips when she is forty, seventy or a hundred and seven.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Yun.
505 reviews18.1k followers
March 3, 2022
Rules of Civility transported me to 1930s New York. It made me nostalgic for a city I've never been to and a time I've never lived in.

Looking back, it's hard to put my finger on exactly what made this story so special. On the surface, there isn't anything terribly arresting about the plot itself. We follow Katey, a working class girl starting her adult life and trying to make it in New York. A chance encounter propels her to friendships with Manhattan's wealthy and elite, providing her with opportunities and experiences that end up shaping who she is.

And yet, this book is so much more. Towles's writing is undeniably compelling, shining brightly from every single page. I honestly couldn't look away. I can't think of another author who can stun me so thoroughly with just the power of their prose. There is so much charm, insight, and longing embedded in the words and the sentences. I often caught myself pausing and rereading just to savor them a few more times before I could move on.

This story is an ode to New York City, with all of its timeless elegance and unwavering vibrancy. And it's an ode to being young and having your whole life in front you. Towles deftly captures the endless possibilities of youth, with its numerous choices and all the lives yet unlived, as well as the feelings of excitement and loneliness that come with being young.

If I had one critique, it would be that the characters in here don't necessarily resemble real people with flaws. They're all a bit too perfect, more levelheaded and idealistic than anyone I've ever met. No matter the circumstances, they went with the flow, put their best foot forward, and always behaved with grace and composure. While us regular folks can only aspire to such lofty goals, every character in here has already reached this nirvana. Still, they made for an enticing and upbeat read, even if it wasn't entirely realistic.

It takes real skill to turn an otherwise pedestrian story into something special, and Towles achieves it flawlessly with his beautiful writing. It drew me in from the first page and I was swept away. At this point, I'm pretty sure if Towles wrote a treatise on paint drying, I'd find that riveting too.

See also, my thoughts on:
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Lincoln Highway

This was a pick for my Book of the Month box. Get your first book for $5 here.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 343 books397k followers
November 24, 2021
After reading A Gentleman in Moscow, I searched out this earlier work by Amor Towles, Rules of Civility, and found it every bit as entrancing and beautifully written. The story follows a young woman Katy Kontent over the course of one year -- 1938 -- going season by season as she makes friends, faces tragedies, finds and loses love, and makes her way through the breathless, ruthless, exhilarating world of Manhattan between the wars. This isn't a book that can be easily described by its plot. What happens? Well, a life happens. At the end, you will feel as if you were there, experiencing all the ups and downs with Katy, hanging out at jazz bars and Long Island parties, working in the secretarial pool, grabbing pie at the automat cafeteria, swinging between the extreme poverty of the downtown immigrant communities and the rarified Fifth Avenue apartments of the city's elite. The characters are all memorable and deeply human. The dialogue is sharp as a razor but much more fun. The scenes are elegant, surprising, perfectly crafted. If you are looking for a good book to experience another time and place, and marvel at some excellent writing along the way, Towles is a great choice!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,853 reviews35k followers
October 26, 2019
Another $1.99 deal on this book today - A kindle download.
Am I the only one that gets excited every time they just see a book pop up of one we loved?
One of my favorite authors!!!

$1.99 Kindle Download special today! —
GREAT DEAL!!! (I spent more!)


This review is filled 'mostly' with quotes --as these are quotes I want to remember....yet without the context of the story itself ... there are NO SPOILERS.
Special thanks Sara. We are buddy-reading this together ..having our own private book club discussion....adds much richness to a novel like this one.

Whatever setbacks Katey's father faced in life, he said, "however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee".

"when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane--in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath--she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger".

"One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements".
"In retrospect, my cup of coffee has been the works of Charles dickens.

Tinker had this to say about Katey....
"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".

Hmmmm....something 'I' mulled over....( as did Katey).....
"Most people have more needs than wants. That's why they live the lives they do. But the world is run by those whose wants outstrip their needs".

"If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, then there wouldn't be so much to fuss about love in the first place"

"I suppose that Anne was right when she observed that at any given moment we're all seeking someone's forgiveness."

Profile Image for Elaine.
773 reviews350 followers
May 28, 2017
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 fairy tale about a mad cap girl with a fairy tale name (Katey Kontent) in a fairy tale New York of 1938, where Bentleys prowl the streets, all the women are beautiful, all the boys are plucky, the furs are furry, the jewels chandelier sized, the cocktails ever flowing, the underclasses ably represented by a bosomy wisecracking Italian girl from Jersey and several kindly Negro workers and musicians, and the Depression mumbles by at a safe remove. Instead of hardship, we get lovingly detailed tours of the hangouts of moneyed New York then and now (the Beresford, the 21 Club, the bar at the St. Regis, the Plaza, the University Club, Long Island, "camps" upstate...).

What's wrong with that, you say? Isn't a fun fairytale, with a few good plot twists, some soapy love stories, and a crafty villainess, worth the candle? Well, yes, and no one loves time-travel voyeurism with lush descriptions of meals, clothes and décor more than me. (See also The Age of Innocence and Mad Men (but more on the latter, later)). And if that were all that Rules of Civility was meant to be - a frothy little cocktail for a summer's night - it might leave a saccharine taste in your mouth, but it wouldn't irk, or leave a sense of hollowness, as ultimately this book did for me.

In the end, Rules DID remind me of Mad Men, more than Age of Innocence or House of Mirth or the Great Gatsby, all of which had self-conscious echoes in this novel. Both Mad Men and Rules indulge my desire for trans-decade New York lifestyle porn, mostly of the well to do, as well as my arch sense of knowingness at getting the landmarks, the signposted history, the name-dropping literary tie-ins, but I find both cold at the core, with a cipher for a hero/ine. I feel a bit sad and worse for wear after visiting these worlds.

Katy, like Don Draper, is a woman with a new name and without a past. And this is a fundamental problem for the novel. We're told at the beginning that New York is a place where "Katyas become Katies", and while we're never told as much, we imagine that Kontent (a wonderful fairy tale name) is also a shortening of some unwieldy Russian surname (the inverse of Gatz to Gatsby, one imagines). But while viewers who persevere will eventually learn how and why Dick became Don, the more historically common but still interesting transformation of Katya to Katy is never explored. You spend the whole novel waiting for more than perfunctory references to Brooklyn, her immigrant laborer father and MIA mother, as well as for some insight into the amazing labor of reconstruction needed to make that bookish Brooklyn ethnic working class girl into the toast of WASP society, capable of making not only 4 (count 'em -4!) scions of highborn families (albeit one down on his luck) fall in love with her, but also (far more credulity stretching) of winning the social acceptance and trust of those scions' assorted female friends and relations. You will wait in vain, however, because despite the early acknowledgement of this transformation, Rules ends up asking us to take on fairy-tale faith that Cinderella can go to the ball, that a plucky Katya can shed the accent, learn the mannerisms and pole vault her way into the world of the Social Register with nary a wrong fork, social faux pas, cold shoulder or cutting remark.

Similarly, despite the framing of the novel as being rooted in Walker Evans' photos of Depression-era working class commuters and the early discussion of the Depression and its "hunger and hopelessness", the novel is ultimately ahistorical, or at least set in a pleasant social register (no caps this time) where the Depression doesn't intrude. This is part of what creates the feeling that reading the novel is like over-indulging in candy - it's all fun and games in this make-believe version of 1930s New York, and again, that's OK, as far as it goes, but it prevents the novel from being multi-dimensional and more meaningful.

To close on a personal note: in the 1930s, both sets of my grandparents were young adults in New York, constructing their own bridges out of the working class. Like Katie, all 4 were the children of immigrants, some from Russia, all were smart, bookish, motivated. Unlike Katie, no one ever invited them to tea at the Ritz. They ended up accomplishing a lot, but their Brooklyn accents with the ghost of Yiddish behind marked them as far from blue blood their entire lives. So did their memories of Depression penury, which, combined with their inherited shtetl thriftiness, made them suspicious of conspicuous consumption to their dying days. Nothing in Rules is true to that lived history of 1930s New York. Of course, Katie wasn't Jewish, and it was certainly possible to cross great social divides - show girls became duchesses and the like, but there should be a story - more than a fairy tale - to explain this miracle, and because there isn't, Rules of Civility disappointed me in the end.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
547 reviews4,476 followers
June 13, 2022
2022 Reread: I continue to be astounded by how many new things I catch each time I read this and how a different element of it speaks to me each year. This year, it was the robust supporting characters and how much they each added something distinct and essential to Katey's life. Also, for some reason, the fact that this entire book is narrated by Katey as an older woman looking back at this year in her life was especially impactful this year - probably because I, too, am getting older. I love this book so much.

2021 Reread: This is my seventh time reading this book. I read it every June. Somehow, in a way I will never be able to fully describe, the book is comforting in its familiarity when I revisit it each year, but in so many ways, it's also brand new to me every time I pick it up. And during every readthrough, a different passage stays with me through the next twelve months, until my next reread. This year's:
Mr. Tate smiled cooly.
-How would you describe your ambitions?
-They're evolving.

2020 Reread: Some years, this book is a balm on my wounds. In other years, it's my rabbit hole of escape. This year, it was a work of art at which I marveled for 300 pages.
Profile Image for Sarah.
431 reviews106 followers
August 1, 2012
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, but it can be done (She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb is one example of a male author writing in a believable female voice). Not by Amor Towles, though, apparently. Katey was basically everything - a party girl, but also very serious and a hard worker, gregarious and super friendly, but also stoic and reserved...so she was basically nothing. There was no personality, no interesting flaws or redeeming characteristics. The whole story is viewed through her perspective and this is basically her story, and yet I finished the book feeling like I didn't know her at all. Additionally, I felt that Katey's working-class background was...unlikely? She was much too readily accepted into the elite circles and much too integrated into that lifestyle to have actually come from impoverished working-class roots. I'm going to attribute this issue to the fact that the author grew up in East Coast suburbs and went to the Ivy Leagues - my guess is he's grown up too close to those elite circles to actually see how snobby and exclusive (and racist and sexist) they can be.

Towles also had this super obnoxious habit of going off into pretentious tangents about classic literature...basically worshipping works of the Great White Man Authors (Hemingway, Thoreau, Dickens...) while shitting all over female writers (Austen, Woolf, Buck). No one cares about your page-long analysis of Walden, Mr. Towles, so perhaps you could hush up and get on with the story.

Others have complimented the writing style, but personally I wasn't impressed. I thought it was overwritten. Heavy on the style, light on the substance. I know this was compared to Fitzgerald (another author of whom I am not fond) and I can see why, but it's a pale imitation.

The plot itself was generally weak. Nothing about the plot is particularly new or original. It starts out kind of interesting but quickly flatlines. The romances were all tepid. I hated the name Tinker for the banker/(SPOILER)manstress (male version of mistress).

So yeah, can you tell I didn't care for this one much? I feel like I've been too harsh and bitchy in this review, but what can I say? Something about this book rubbed me the wrong way. Read something else, this one isn't worth it.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,879 followers
September 27, 2011
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 and then went back and re-read the prologue, I added the fifth star because I like the way it's constructed. I also liked the way he brought it all together in the end, drawing some poignant and profound conclusions. It may be that you can only appreciate the fellow feeling at the end if you've reached a certain age and can look back on your 20s with both regret and compassion for your young self and the friendships you chose before the weightiness of life settled in.
Profile Image for Candi.
599 reviews4,538 followers
March 30, 2019
"The year 1938 had been one in which four people of great color and character had held welcome sway over my life."

Katey Kontent and Eve Ross are ready to ring in the new year of 1938 at The Hotspot in Greenwich Village when the devastatingly handsome and moneyed banker with a Central Park West address walks in the door. Tinker Grey: "He had that certain confidence in his bearing, that democratic interest in his surroundings, and that understated presumption of friendliness that are only found in young men who have been raised in the company of money and manners. It didn’t occur to people like this that they might be unwelcome in a new environment – and as a result, they rarely were." When he pulls up a chair to sit with the young women, a chain of events and encounters will make 1938 a year like no other.

There is so much to love about this book. The first being the characters – they are meticulously sculpted into people that live and breathe and practically jump straight from these pages. Amor Towles knows how to write a character! Now, it would be tough for me to say whether I had a favorite. It would be a close tie between Katey Kontent and New York City. Yes, New York City! I swear it came to life here too. I live in the state of New York, but sadly have not visited the City in more than twenty years. I can honestly say that I felt as if I just had a mini vacation in the Big Apple for a few days while reading this novel. I felt completely nostalgic for a place and time decades before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye. Check out one of Katey’s favorite lunch spots (I love finding out-of-the-way places with a touch of eccentricity to both the menu and the people too!):

"On the corner of Broadway and Exchange Place across the street from Trinity Church there was a little diner with a soda pop clock on the wall and a hasher named Max who even cooked his oatmeal on the griddle. Polar in winter, oppressive in July and five blocks out of my way, it was one of my favorite spots in town – because I could always get the crooked little booth-for-two by the window. Sitting in that seat, in the span of a sandwich you could pay witness to the pilgrimage of New York’s devoted."

As far as Katey is concerned, I found loads to admire there. She’s one smart cookie, levelheaded, quick-witted, and enterprising. She knows what she wants and she works for it, yet she’s flexible. And, she loves to read! What’s not to love about that?!

"Katey’s the hottest bookworm you’ll ever meet. If you took all the books that she’s read and piled them in a stack, you could climb to the Milky Way."

"I’ve come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine."

Katey’s initial encounter with Tinker Grey sets in motion a series of meetings with a compelling array of other individuals of New York society. She comes in contact with the elite and affluent while still maintaining her connections with the working class and the artistic world. Her path is altered in varied and complex ways and she always seems to adapt – she seems to me the quintessential New Yorker. She is still young – in her twenties – and I so enjoyed thinking back to my own hopeful and optimistic years when it seemed anything was possible. Making your own way, falling in love, learning that there is much more to a person than initially meets the eye – all of these things seemed like elements buried in my own past but sprang to the surface once more as I reflected while reading about Katey’s personal growth. How much control do we have over our own destinies? There seem to be so many brushes with chance while at the same time much of it is controlled by our own circumstances and choices. How to make the most of it all?

"One of Newton’s laws of physics is something about how bodies in motion will hew to their trajectory unless they meet an external force."

This is my second Amor Towles novel, although it was written prior to my beloved A Gentleman in Moscow. It’s difficult to compare the two books, but I will say they are both worthy of all the stars. Because of the Count, A Gentleman in Moscow will always have a special place in my heart, but this book did not fail to check off all the boxes as well. It is an homage to New York City and one not to be missed by those that want a peek at a world long gone. Whether confined within the walls of a hotel in the heart of Moscow, or wandering the streets of the sprawling metropolis of NYC, I know I am in excellent hands with Amor Towles. He can evoke an atmosphere that is both authentic and delicious.

"For however inhospitable the wind, from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise – that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving."

"I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss."
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,103 followers
March 16, 2018
I’m late to the party so there isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t already been said. What I will say is that I absolutely loved the writing, the characters, New York City in the late 1930’s, and the story!

I was having a hard time picking a book and felt I was going into another slump so I went in a totally different direction and picked an older book on my TBR. I’m so glad I did because I loved it! I need to keep reminding myself that the newest books aren’t necessarily the best ones out at the moment!

One thing I will say is that I picked up on something in this book that is in Towles next book Gentleman (I listened to about an hour of it awhile back). He uses the word Chinoiserie in both books. It was a restaurant in this book. I will have to go back and finish Gentleman soon! What a writer!

I listened to the audio. The narration by Rebecca Lowman was absolutely perfect.

Highly highly recommended for those who have yet to read it!
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,097 reviews1,132 followers
December 15, 2011
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 Indiana or Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primative blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs. Every morning in the spring one of them skips off her porch with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane ready to flag down the first Greyhound headed to Manhattan--this city where all things beautiful are welcomed and measured if, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size."

You know, maybe you shouldn't write your debut novel in the first person from the POV of a character of the opposite gender from yourself? Let alone a different time period and socioeconomic (and educational) background? Just a thought?

Well, I kept going. For 129 pages. Until I realized there was no plot. Just lots of drinking, and pretentious talk about art and such.

Also, by the time I quit, the main character had coincidentally run into someone while out and about at least 5 times. I thought New York City was a bit bigger than that?

But, I admit, I hated The Great Gatsby, which this has been compared to.

But at least Nick Carraway was convincingly male.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
814 reviews746 followers
August 2, 2011
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 picture of a man staring across a canyon of three decades, a photograph of an old friend. Thus begins the flashback story of Katey's roaring twenties in the glittering 30's.

Katey Kontent (Katya) is the moral center of the story, an unapologetic working girl--more a bluestocking than a blue blood-- born in Brighton Beach of Russian immigrant parents. She's an ambitious and determined statuesque beauty à la Tierney or Bacall who seeks success in the publishing industry. She works as hard by day as she plays at night. Her best friend, Eve (Evelyn) Ross, is a Midwest-born Ginger Rogers /Garbo character mix, with jazz cat spirit and a fearless, cryptic glamor. She refuses daddy's money and embraces her free spirit:

"I'm willing to be under anything...as long as it isn't somebody's thumb."

Katey and Eve flirt with shameless savoir-faire, and are quick with the clever repartees. They will kiss a man once that they'll never kiss twice, and glide with effortless élan among all the social classes of New York. Moreover, they can make a few dollars stretch through many a martini, charming gratis drinks from fashionable men. With their nerve and gaiety, the two would be equally savvy at Vanity Fair or the Algonquin Round Table, or in a seedy bar on the Lower East Side.

Eve and Katey meet the sphinx-like Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937, at the Hotspot, a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. Tinker's métier is Gatsby-esque--an inscrutable, ruggedly handsome man in cashmere, a mysterious lone figure with an enigmatic mystique. The three become fast friends, but as with many triangulating relationships, a hairline rivalry sets in. Then a cataclysmic tragedy shatters the cool grace of their bond, and their solidarity is ruptured.

Towles is spectacular at description and atmosphere, keeping a keen camera's eye on the city with a polished pedigree of writing that is rare in a debut novel. A smoky haze envelopes the streets and clubs and buildings, which the reader can't help surveying in all the rich colors of vintage black and white. The writing is dense, yet fluid and ambient, rich as a contralto, and cool as a saxophone. Tendrils of Edith Wharton flow through, as well as Fitzgerald, and echoes of Capote's Holly Golightly.

At times, the lush descriptions threaten to eclipse the story, and the characters recede. This is a book of manners, so the action resides in the conflict between individual ambitions and desires and the acceptable social codes of behavior between classes. However, the middle section stagnates, as one character hugs most of the narrative in repetitive days and nights, the psychological complexities dimming. It loses some steam as the taut thrill of the first half wanes, but an understated closure recharges it again.

Overall, the beauty of the novel endures, and the sensuality of the prose lingers. The reader is also edified on the origin of the title, and the author folds it in neatly to the story. The characters are crisp and contoured, delightful and satisfying, even if one left the stage a bit too soon. This is one male writer who finesses his female characters with impressive agility and assurance.
Profile Image for Luffy.
933 reviews702 followers
August 11, 2020
Rules of civility is a book by Amor Towles. He is an author whose best book is A Gentleman in Moscow. Armed with this endorsement I began reading. I realised then that this book will be unforgotten by me. Who knows, maybe when I'm in my deathbed I'll think of it and die.

I was thinking of giving the book only 4 stars. But how can that be, when I've read the book in two days flat? How can that be, when I didn't find one single page lacking in quality?

In the book, people are real. They make love, they make merry, some die, others live to see another day. The dawn of WW2 is never quite mentioned. That's fine too. The book took me in directions that I didn't expect. Therein lies its cunning beauty. It's a book made to celebrate life. I embraced it as much as I could.
November 24, 2021
Rule 1:
“Every Action in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”

On New Year’s Eve 1937, just as America puts the Great Depression in its rearview and Europe is dangerously moving towards war, Katey Kontent and Eve Ross decide to enjoy the New Year celebrations in a New York Jazz Club. With a few dollars and a tight schedule of drinks, their evening seems quite limited, that is until Theodore ‘Tinker’ Grey, a young city banker, enters the club, and the group becomes a threesome.

Katey and Evey are two young women full of expectation and adventure, particularly Eve with her boundless energy, as they chase the party scene in New York City. As their friendship with Tinker grows, so does their access to high society. There is sexual tension between the three, and it doesn’t help that Evey laid down a marker for Tinker from day one. Relationships and life can throw unexpected challenges, and the year ahead has some dramatic twists. I felt a sense of loneliness with each character that they were searching for something deeper and meaningful in their lives, but the dazzling opportunities of high society camouflaged it. There are moments of humour, and Katey can be pretty witty and sarcastic with her language. Shockingly I couldn’t connect with any of these characters, and yes, this is the same author that gave us Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow.

The only fascinating and loveable character in the novel is New York City. My mind’s eye sees it in terms of those black and white photographs that adorn any historical album and which are touted in the preface of this novel as a photo exhibition of the NYC subway from Walker Evans. There is a Great Gatsby vibe throughout, showing in its atmosphere and ramifications of privilege and belonging. The writing is beautiful, and the time and place are visualised through rich and expressive images.

Amor Towles frequently recognises other works in his novels and creates opportunities to weave them into his story. In this case, the principal reference is to the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation written by a young George Washington. Scanning the rules of civility in the book’s Appendix, I feel modern society has little chance of complying with many of them.

I read this book with my Buddy Ceecee, and as always, it is such a pleasure and rewarding experience. We have, however, been searching for a 5-star book since our tremendous success with A Gentleman in Moscow. Selecting Rules of Civility by the same author felt like being awarded a last-minute penalty kick with their goalkeeper missing, only to find someone stole the ball. In this case, the characters. The only good outcome is that Ceecee and I will need to double our efforts to find that next and elusive 5-star book.
Rule 110:
“Labour to keep alive in your Breast that little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.”

Profile Image for Melinda Gates.
Author 6 books64.9k followers
December 21, 2020
Amor Towles is a master of the English language, and when you’re deep in one of his worlds, ours feels very far away. In one glittering sentence after another, he paints a portrait of a 1930s Manhattan filled with characters straight from the pages of a novel by Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s beautiful, it’s poignant, and it’s very funny. An excellent choice if you’re looking to be whisked away.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,096 reviews3,844 followers
August 8, 2021
Towles’ first novel is light and enjoyable, but it didn’t wow me as A Gentleman in Moscow did.

It’s the story of an extraordinary and transformative year in the life of 22-year old Katey Kontent in New York City in 1938.

“Many are called, but few are chosen”

This novel opens with the famous lines from Matthew 22:8-14 which Walker Evans used for the title of his book of covert photos of subway passengers, taken in 1938 and published in 1966, Many are Called.

Image: One of Walker Evans’ subway photos (Source)

Katey goes to an exhibition of these pictures at MOMA in 1966. Recognising one of the subjects as a pivotal figure in her life that year, she falls to reflective reminiscence - the rest of the book (except for a trio of short passages in italics, reporting things she wasn’t present for). It was a pivotal year for the world, too: in the US, people could see green shoots marking the end of the Great Depression, but in Europe, the seeds of global war were germinating.

Get out of your ruts

This lacks the whimsy of the two Towles short stories I’ve read (I’m glad), nor does it have the sprinkling of almost magical realism that A Gentleman in Moscow has. However, I’m not sure how realistic Katey’s life is either. (It would certainly be less likely with the constraints of the UK class system.) She’s a native New Yorker, the bookish daughter of Russian immigrants, working in a typing pool, and sharing a boarding house room with midwestern beauty, Eve. However, her ambitions are “evolving”.

I was making the most of the coincidences and surprises.
In a jazz bar, they meet the wealthy and charming Tinker Grey, who opens doors to a much more glamorous world - the first of many chance encounters and little coincidences that nudge Katey and Eve’s lives in unexpected directions.

Yet this is said of Tinker’s friends, rather than of Katey and Eve:
They didn’t have much spending money or social status, but they were on the verge of having both…. Where for so many, New York was ultimately the sum of what they would never attain, for this crew New York was a city where the improbable would be made probable, the implausible plausible and the impossible possible.
Most are effortlessly entitled and unconscious of their privilege:
It didn’t occur to people like this that they might be unwelcome in a new environment - and as a result, they rarely were.
But some are burdened by the unfair advantages that fate bestowed.

There’s a large supporting cast: Tinker’s (fairy or evil?) godmother, Anne Grandyn; his brother, Hank, who paints in the style of Stuart Davis, including a picture of dockworkers; a woman called Bitsy; a broker called Bucky; a magazine magnate, and all the other characters you'd expect for the time, place, and milieu, at all social levels. Some turn out to be more rounded characters than they first seem.

Image: "Harbor Landscape" by Stuart Davis in 1939: lithograph printed in black ink on wove paper. (Source)

It feels rather familiar:
• Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
• The TV series, Mad Men.
• Dickens’, Great Expectations (though this is explicitly mentioned several times, and becomes a key plot point).
• Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
• The film, Sliding Doors (though we only ever see the alternative versions).
That may be unfair, but I couldn’t shake off the similarities.

Agatha Christie is often mentioned, and the methods of Poirot are applied to some situations: the appeal is that “Everyone eventually gets what they deserve”. However, “real” life, in this fiction, is closer to Miss Prism’s implication in The Importance of Being Earnest: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” A world away from NYC, Thoreau’s Walden is another touchpoint.

Washington’s Rules of Civility

Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Teenage George Washington copied a translation of a French Jesuit etiquette guide from 1595, as the Rules of Civility, using what is now British spelling.

Image: George Washington’s first few lines. (Source)

The rules are pretty universal ones about kindness, empathy, manners, and respect. They were later published, and a character in this book has a copy, but its significance doesn’t really seem worth ten pages of 110 rules, plus the novel's title. It boils down to whether the book is a guide to morality, social climbing, or both.


• “Her skin was flushed with an ignorant beauty that filled me with envy.”

• “Be careful when choosing what you’re proud of - the world has every intent of using it against you.”

• “It wasn’t a forceful kiss. It was an enquiry.”

• “Fronta nulla fides - place no trust in appearances.”

• “When a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane… she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger.”

• “That self-imposed simplicity favored by New England Protestants who respect everything about wealth other than its uses.”

• “His accent was patently aristocratic - part prep school, part Brit, part prude.”

• “Most people have more needs than wants… But the world is run by those whose wants outstrip their needs.”
Profile Image for Melissa (LifeFullyBooked).
4,486 reviews1,624 followers
April 4, 2022
This was my book club April selection. I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction, so I never would have chosen this book for myself despite the adoration that Towles gets from everyone. I really liked this book, so another win for the book club!

I started out reading a paper copy, but the book is written without quotation marks and that isn't the easiest thing to read. It's clunky and doesn't flow well. So I switched to the audiobook and that made all the difference. It truly made this book come to life. Rebecca Lowman's narration is well done and the way she distinguishes the voices of the various characters makes the book flow and sing as the author likely meant it to do.

Towles is a master wordsmith. His phrases resonate and paint the most marvelous word pictures. It takes great skill to craft phrases like he does, and I was just in awe of his writing throughout. And to know that this is his debut is amazing.

This novel is also an homage to both New York City and to books, music, and art. All of those things serve as a backdrop to a fairly simple narrative cloaked in marvelous prose. I connected thoroughly with Katey and was captivated by her life in 1938. Although this book doesn't change my mind about historical fiction, it's a fabulous representation of the genre and I highly recommend it, especially as an audiobook.
Profile Image for Robert Davis.
687 reviews60 followers
December 4, 2013
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, jazz clubs, martinis and Long Island mansions.

The story is told in long flashback, from the hindsight of 30 years beyond the events of 1938, the narrator reminisces on events and people who contributed to a turning point in her life. Told from the vantage point of an older woman, looking back at the year when forces converged in her life, this is the story of a young lady determined to make her fortune in Manhattan.

While reading this, I realized that I have never and would never have as much talent to write as well as Mr. Towles does here.

One pet peeve I have is the author chose not to use quotation marks in dialogue. It is very annoying and did take some getting used to. Why writers (and editors for that matter) approve of this method is confounding. Also, as rich and colorful as Mr. Towles writing is, occasionally he overdoes the verbosity. Case in point, page 263: "I looked up and down Second Avenue like a wolf that's escaped from it's cage. I checked my watch. The hands were splayed between the nine and three, like two duelers back to back who have counted off paces and are about to turn and fire."

The true test of any story is if the author made you care about his characters? Mr. Towles has succeeded in both painting a rich, colorful and vibrant picture of 1930's New York, as well as creating real and authentic characters that come to life for us to revel in their company.

If I have failed to convey just how much I admire Amor Towles writing, let me share this. Initially, I checked this book out from the library (3 times), then checked out the Audio CD (masterfully read by Rebecca Lowman), and then finally purchased my own hardcover copy (paying full retail price I might add!) This book will remain in my personal library and will be reread again with great pleasure.
Profile Image for Dolors.
518 reviews2,144 followers
December 5, 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 called, but few are chosen.” Whereas a song must rely solely on a sequence of piano notes with slight variations as a conduit for immediate beauty, this novel offers another kind of aesthetic emotion captured in interwoven depth and detail which slowly escalates to a bittersweet climax that will remain for long after the last page is turned.

The almost Proustian trip to Katey’s past is triggered by the fortuitous encounter with a couple of old pictures of magnetic Tinker in a photographic exposition that will project Katey’s memory back to the New Year’s Eve of 1937 in which she and her roommate Eve, both working as secretaries in the land of opportunities, meet the seductive banker in a vibrant smoldering jazz club.
Wrapped in the quintessential urban mythology of New York City and overflowing with the exuberant pulsation of hedonism and new opportunities resulting from the Great Crash of 1929, Katey, Eve and Tinker become irremediably bound together in a triangular relationship going beyond the clichéd scenes and plot twists experienced countless times before in other stories. What Towles paints in elegant yet solid black and white brushstrokes is an insightful and vivid account of the social reality and the vicissitudes of life enriched with fascinating and complex characters oozing with naked humanity, which struggle to find their own place in this glossy yet hollow Broadway cardboard scenario of the New York of the time.

“One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.” (p. 128)

How far is one ready to go to secure social status and career success? What is the price to pay for allowing feelings cross the beaten track of ambitions? Which road should be taken when the forking path of conscience has to be confronted? The glamorous yet frivolous most travelled one, based on impeccable “Rules of Civility” which frame public behavior and ensure social and professional success? Or the less treaded one that points out to the uncomfortably hidden truths within oneself? Opposite sides of the same coin are imprinted in the inner contradictions of each one of the characters in this riveting chess game of story, tearing apart while bringing their lives together across the streets of sumptuous yet decadent Manhattan.

“That’s how quickly New York City comes about – like a weather vane – or the head of a cobra. Time tells which.” (p. 161)

Be ready to time travel through Katey’s acute and sharp eyes while encountering multilayered moral dilemmas that won’t only varnish the black and white canvas with opalescent colors beaming with true love, compassion, loyalty and sacrifice but also infuse disquieting questions about the first signs of a ruthless society that would take shape in the forthcoming years after the interval of the Second World War, whose threat looms on the horizon of this novel.

“So long as a man is faithful to himself, everything is in his favor, government, society, the very sun, moon, and stars” says Henry David Thoreau in his masterpiece Walden, Katey’s favorite book.
I stand with Katey on her balcony staring at the holes in the floor of heaven and wonder alongside with her whether the choices she made with eyes closed and open heart were the right ones.
Her stunning eyes stare back at me and silently reply “I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me. And at the same time, I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss.”
Billie Holiday’s sinuous voice is suddenly tinged with a melancholic undertone remembering the roads that won’t ever be trodden and the fellow travelers that were lost on the way. But as the last notes of the song are engulfed by the darkest night, my lips draw the slightest hint of a smile in knowing that all roads, if treaded faithfully, will lead where one truly belongs.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 122 books155k followers
May 14, 2011
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous book about New York City in the late 1930s. Elegant prose, one hell of a heroine, and a great story, all around.
Profile Image for Kimber Silver.
Author 1 book193 followers
November 28, 2022
"I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss."
― Amor Towles, Rules of Civility

Have you ever been immersed in something so enchanting that you have no idea how special it is until it’s over? This is the feeling I’m left with after reading Rules of Civility. Amor Towles’ dreamy lyrical prose is so beautiful that I was transported back in time to a glamorous life of martinis and manners. I could taste the bathtub gin on my tongue as the sultry jazz twirled me across the dancefloor and out onto the snowy streets of New York at the stroke of midnight to usher in 1938.

Katherine Kontent, a second-generation American of Russian descent, strikes out from Brooklyn to make her way in Manhattan. This is where she and Evelyn Ross, an import from the Midwest, meet and become the best of friends. Katey is a bookworm endowed with a pluckiness that will serve her well. Evey has her heart set on the moon and stars and intends to get them, by hook or by crook. The pair bump into Theodore Grey, or 'Tinker' to his friends, at an out-of-the-way Jazz club on New Year’s Eve. The newly-formed trio subsequently embark on a journey that will change their lives. The women show him a poor girl's version of New York while Tinker holds the golden ticket that will allow them into the world of the privileged classes.

Some surprising twists drew me deeper into the fray while the well-developed cast of supporting characters rounded out this delicious tale.

I freely admit that this book didn't immediately blow my socks off. I fell for A Gentleman in Moscow and initially found myself comparing the two. Nevertheless, I gave the story a chance to stand on its own and, once I'd found the sweet spot, it was delicious. It’s a rarity to read a book that touched me so profoundly that I cried through its final pages.

Rules of Civility ticked all the boxes for me!
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
353 reviews294 followers
October 14, 2021
The essence of this book is nicely summarised in the following passage:

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

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is the first novel by this author, perhaps the most famous of his being A Gentleman in Moscow which was terrific. This story is a wonderful romantic journey back to the Jazzy days of late 1930’s New York. We follow twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent (isn’t that a great name?) as she navigates this glittering city and her chance meeting and friendship with the dashing Tinker Gray (another great name). This encounter propels Kate into the stratospheric levels of high society involving lots of gin, martinis, parties, and interactions of all sorts between posh types.

If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place

There’s a lot Kate needs to navigate here, and because she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she needs to draw on her resourcefulness to get by. Towles does a wonderful job of painting a picture of this era, his prose is wonderful – as it was in A Gentleman in Moscow. As with the Count in AGIM, I felt a real connection with Kate and really hoped the best for her. When things didn’t quite go to plan for the young lady, I did let out a “Gasp” – as one or two happenings were quite unforeseen.

That’s the way we New Yorkers feel about fall. Come September, despite waning hours, despite the leaves succumbing to the weight of grey autumnal rains, there is a certain relief to having the long days of summer behind us; and there’s a paradoxical sense of rejuvenation in the air

The only time I’ve been to New York was in Autumn, and I will always remember the golden yellow leaves and their reflection in the water in Central Park, also the stiff, cold wind barrelling in from the grey Atlantic blowing me silly as I walked down the concrete pathways. What a beautiful city, and Towles describes it all magnificently. Even with my tiny taste of the place, I often thought “well Amor you’ve got that right old sport”.

Even though this story may just appear to be one where we follow the filthy rich bowling from one party to another, and various horizontal refreshments happening from time to time – my word they were a promiscuous lot – there is much, much more to it than that. Towles slowly develops this story, it does pick up pace and interest in the last third and it has a wonderfully thought-provoking ending. I loved dining out on this one for sure!

As can be seen by the title, there is reference made to this wonderful publication – The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour by George Washington, this book outlines 110 rules for impeccable etiquette. Tinker carried a copy of this in his suitcase to help him find his way around this vibrant but sometimes very formal city. I tried reading all 110 rules contained in the appendix of this book, however, I stopped at around rule no. twenty realising the more I read, the more I came to the conclusion trying to achieve these levels of impeccability are near to impossibly impossible.

Classic stuff. Really enjoyable!

Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,610 followers
April 24, 2017
Thank you, Amor Towles, for writing such a lovely and sophisticated novel. Your book was a soothing tonic for this bruised and battered reader.

Rules of Civility is the story of Katey Kontent in New York City. The novel opens at an art gallery in 1966, and then flashes back to 1937 after Katey sees a photo of her former lover, Tinker Grey. She thinks back to her single days and to the night she first met Tinker in '37. She remembers how getting to know him inadvertently set her on a path that changed her circle of friends, her career, and her fortune.

There are so many things I enjoyed about this novel! I liked that Katey loved to read, and her conversation was often infused with bookish references. I liked that she was clever and also moral, and she tried to do the right thing in difficult situations. (In some ways she reminded me of Elizabeth Bennet, of Pride and Prejudice.) I liked the portrayal of different levels of New York society, and how some people were so desperate to fit in. I liked that our characters have secrets that we don't learn until later, and that the author was able to surprise me. I even liked that the novel's title refers to a work by George Washington that gives etiquette advice.

I knew little about the plot when I picked up this book, but was intrigued by all the positive reviews I'd seen. I'm a few years late to this book party, but I became eager to finally read this first Towles novel when his latest work, A Gentleman in Moscow, also received good buzz. I enjoyed the writing of Rules so much that I definitely plan to follow up with Gentleman.

I listened to this book on audio, which had a good narrator and was an enjoyable listening experience. I'd highly recommend this novel.

Favorite Quote
"At any given moment we're all seeking someone's forgiveness."
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,494 followers
October 21, 2020
I hope Amor Towles has another novel coming out soon. Why? On the basis of just two books, he's become one of my favourite writers. I love his work. And like any lover involved in a heady new affair, I WANT MORE!

Last year, I read his second book, A Gentleman In Moscow, about a Russian count in the 1920s forced by his repressive government to live out his life in Moscow's Hotel Metropol because of his background. The historical novel was sublime: beautifully detailed, elegant, funny, with a deep and honest soul.

You could use the same words to describe his debut novel, Rules of Civility, even though the setting and main character are much different.

In a prelude set in the 1960s, Kate and her husband are at a MoMA show – which was an actual exhibit – of Walker Evans photos taken of ordinary people riding New York's subway system in 1938. Kate recognizes two pictures of someone named Tinker Grey, one in which he's impoverished, and another in which he's more prosperous and sporting a cashmere coat.

This forces her down a rabbit hole of memory, and the rest of the book, except for an epilogue, recounts the eventful year 1938.

Katey Kontent (emphasis on the second syllable – like "content") is a 20-something woman in New York City. She works in an office secretarial pool at a law firm and lives in a boarding house with her friend Eve Ross. Both women are poor (Eve has refused her midwestern family's offer of money) and have bohemian tastes, and soon, thanks to a chance meeting with a dashing, glamorous young man named Tinker, their lives change irrevocably.

Katey – or Kate, or Katya, which is what her Russian immigrant parents called her growing up in Brooklyn – is a wonderful character. She's down-to-earth, hardworking, enterprising, and has a snappy, clever answer for every question people throw at her. She's also an avid reader.

Much of the joy of the book comes from watching her navigate the complex social order of New York, which is still recovering from the Depression but is also the playground for the extremely rich, who've been insulated from want all their lives.

What I loved about reading the novel during this current pandemic is how vividly Towles recreates the excitement of Manhattan life: the crowded nightclubs, the jostling city streets and shop counters, the automats and fancy restaurants, the cabs hurling up Broadway. No one's wearing masks; you don't have to worry about staying six feet apart.

There's a scene in which Katey, feeling blue on her birthday (her friends are off jet-setting), treats herself to a new outfit (and hairstyle) and then dines, solo, at La Belle Époque in the West Village. Savouring every moment of the experience, she thinks that her working-class father would have scoffed at the extravaganze:

To him, restaurants were the ultimate expression of ungodly waste. For of all the luxuries that your money could buy, a restaurant left you the least to show for it. A fur coat could at least be worn in winter to fend off the cold, and a silver spoon could be melted down and sold to a jeweler. But a porterhouse steak? You chopped it, chewed it, swallowed it, wiped your lips and dropped your napkin on your plate. That was that.

But then she muses about her own pleasure at the experience, even though she can't afford it.

But for me, dinner at a fine restaurant was the ultimate luxury. It was the very height of civilization. For what was civilization but the intellect's ascendancy out of the doldrums of necessity (shelter, sustenance and survival) into the ether of the finely superfluous (poetry, handbags and haute cuisine)? So removed from daily life was the whole experience that when all was rotten to the core, a fine dinner could revive the spirits. If and when I had twenty dollars left to my name, I was going to invest it right here in an elegant hour that couldn't be hocked.

Besides being beautifully written, that's a lovely and profound idea.

I won't go on about the plot, or characters. They're worth discovering on your own, and there's one reveal I definitely don't want to spoil. Because of that prelude, the question of what happens to Tinker – and whom Kate ends up marrying – hangs over the bulk of the novel and keeps you turning pages, even though, at about the 3/4 mark, the tension lags for a bit.

Neither do I want to discuss the significance of the title. In retrospect I'm glad I didn't know what it referred to when starting the book.

Towles, elegant, handsome and well-tailored in his publicity photos, gave up a career as an investment banker to write fiction. A good thing. The world doesn't need more bankers. But it does need artists, especially ones as eloquent and insightful as he is.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book446 followers
July 12, 2017
New Year’s Eve 1937, Katey Kontent and Evelyn Ross meet handsome, well-heeled Tinker Grey at a bar and they see in 1938 together. They make resolutions for one another...and one of those resolutions is to get “out of your ruts.” Well, this chance meeting shakes up all their lives and not a rut is left when 1938 whistles itself into history. With New York City as a delicious backdrop, Katey navigates both the heights of society and the working class world, and along the way she learns a lot about herself and her fellow travelers.

Towles writes enchantingly flawed characters. No goody-goody, unrealistic, cookie-cutter cliches here, and I liked that. Atmospherically, there is something of Fitzgerald in this novel. I made the comparison and then found that many others had done the same. However, there is nothing derivative about either the writing or the story...it is just that sense of a world that is partying on its surface and boiling underneath. There is the looming threat of World War II, which is mentioned in passing, but which permeates all the joviality, because, as an audience, we know that what follows the recovery from the depression is a party that is only momentary, ending in massive losses on battlefields abroad.

Early in the novel, Katey observes, It wasn’t about who had dibs now or who was sitting next to whom in the cinema. The game had changed; or rather, it wasn’t a game at all anymore. It was a matter of making it through the night, which is often harder than it sounds, and always a very individual business.”

This quote summed up a lot for me, for the story is, if nothing else, about the struggle of the individuals to find their place in society, to make trade-offs they can live with, to grasp the right things and the right people. In the end, making it through the night and waking to a morning where you still appreciate a simple cup of coffee might be all that it is ever about for any of us.

A Gentleman in Moscow was one of my favorite reads in 2016, and Rules of Civility has proved to me that Amor Towles is the real thing. All the happenstance in the world could not have produced two such different and yet so captivating novels. I will put my money down every time Towles writes something new.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,878 reviews22.6k followers
August 2, 2019
$1.99 Kindle sale, August 2, 2019. I’ve wanted to read Amor Towles' first novel, Rules of Civility (named after George Washington's list of 110 social etiquette and proper behavior rules) since I fell in love with his whimsical A Gentleman in Moscow. I didn't like this one as well, but it's still worth reading.

Rules of Civility starts off slowly, the story of a young woman making her way in New York City in 1938, but with enough interesting details that I found it absorbing. The main character, Brooklyn native Katey Kontent (a made-up name; she's hiding from her own past and heritage), along with her friend Eve, meet a handsome young banker, Tinker Grey. They all hit it off and start hanging out together, with some romantic tension between them: Eve called dibs on Tinker, but he and Katey have a deeper connection. When an accident occurs that severely injures Eve, Tinker makes a choice, and Katey starts to make some life-changing career choices and changes, battling social barriers along the way.

The plot meanders through most of the year 1938, and I kind of felt like I was just powering through it, but then it picks up pace and interest toward the end, when we start to find out who people really are underneath the masks they wear. The ending really packs a punch.

A story of selling out, bad choices and good ones, finding yourself, and even redemption.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
633 reviews43 followers
August 20, 2011
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 are in those movies….much to our amusement. This is exactly what “Rules” dialog isn’t. It’s distinct but real. “Rules” has an energy that’s exhilarating. Blood pounds as people and City and an era collide. There is a blend of secretaries, bankers, day traders, party girls, lost boys, doormen, waitresses, cultures, a blend of 15th and 2nd generation Americans all dreaming their dreams and banging into one another.

Profile Image for Erin.
2,821 reviews494 followers
April 16, 2018
Well, that debut novel was*ahem* interesting. A tale of three twentysomethings in New York in the 1930's managed to give this book a very "F.Scott Fitzgerald " vibe, but I just wasn't wooed enough to climb as high on the rating scale. If this was bookclub, I would probably be slinging bag G&T's like there was no tomorrow while all these 4 and 5 stars would be waxing on about this coming of age story with its beautiful prose. But the only things I walked away from this book is a reading list(some fantastic authors are nudged in this one) and relief that I didn't spend any money on this book.
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