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The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

2.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,672 Ratings  ·  425 Reviews
Thanks to a successful interview with the painfully shy E.B. White, a beautiful, 19-year-old, blue-eyed blonde from the cornfields of Iowa lands a job as a receptionist at The New Yorker magazine. There she stays two decades, becoming general all-around factotum—watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, ...more
Audio CD, 495 pages
Published June 26th 2012 by HighBridge Company (first published June 18th 2012)
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The Library Lady
My older daughter wants to be some kind of writer. This is the second book I've read in recent times written by someone who teaches writing on a college level and it is making me want to tell her to avoid all such courses in college.

This is a poorly organized mishmosh. Is it a personal story? Portraits of various writers for the New Yorker? An elegy to her beauty? Explications of the writings of various authors she knew?

Personally, I am unimpressed by her foot long blond ponytail or the beauty o
...more
Jessica
Aug 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't even finish this book because it was so bad. The last time I flaked out on a book was maybe... fourth grade? I usually stick it out, even through bad books, but The Receptionist was beyond anything I could handle. Where to even begin??

Maybe the author's name dropping would have been less annoying 100 years ago when the people she encountered were relevant. And it is disgusting how self-confident the author is in her own good looks. Janet Groth really takes narcissism to a whole new le
...more
Moira Russell
Surprisingly terrible, for all the buzz it's gotten. This memoir starts off strong with moving, vivid and detailed portraits of Joe Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark (most of which were published earlier as separate pieces); then becomes a judgemental told-about chronicle of a whole year of dissipated promiscuity in the very early sixties; and, after the heroine Finds Herself (in what was clearly the ending of the autobiographical novel she writes she was never able to finish earlier) in ...more
Lisa Guidarini
I could sum up this book in one quick blurb: Pretty blonde takes advantage of an informal meeting with literary giant E.B. White to beg for a position at The New Yorker. Being a kind man with a generous soul, he passes her along to the head secretary, who offers her a position as a receptionist, a job she held for twenty-one years without ever advancing at the magazine. She meets a few great writers (poet John Berryman, essayist Joseph Mitchell and novelist/playwright Muriel Spark) with whom she ...more
Kim Fay
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some books are just so delicious. Scattered, anecdotal and wonderfully insider-ish, this is one of them. Reading this book is like being at a cocktail party with author Janet Groth. Actually, a few cocktail parties, for at one she might have had only one glass of wine, so she name drops with discretion, while at another she may be a bit lit, so she has a TMI moment that she may or may not regret the next day. For those who want something with a bit more heft, read Brendan Gill's "Here at the New ...more
Chris
Reading this book was like sitting next to Groth in a smoky bar while she told you stories of when she worked at "The New Yorker" for 21 years as a receptionist. So, one evening I joined her for a gin martini and just read. This isn't a tell-all book, oh no, Groth is very considerate to her former employer and its staff, but gives a little inkling here and there. She used to have Friday lunches with Joseph Mitchell, spent Christmas with Muriel Spark, babysat and housesat for Calvin Trillin. Thes ...more
Sara
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a tough one to rate. While I find the era and location, New York City through the late 50s to the early 80s, fascinating, the author doesn't succeed in bringing that time to life. Yes, she does describe her lunches and dinners with interesting characters in some of the most fashionable establishments of the day, but there is a missing element of immediacy, and her recollections seem musty and unappealing. Also,there was little sense of what it was like to work in the offices of the New Y ...more
K2 -----
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I came to this with an expectation of more about what it was like to be involved at the New Yorker in the 1960s and beyond, and was somewhat disappointed.

Groth has written more about herself and her young life than insider tales of the New Yorker and life in that era. Once I let that go I had a more enjoyable reading experience. She used lots of pseudonyms for people so the few juicy details were muted. Perhaps this tells more about what I was looking for in a summer read than what she was offe
...more
Mandy
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When the blond author's live-in boyfriend left her for a brunette, she thought it was for superficial reasons--only after the fact did it occur to her that it might be because she lacked the depth necessary to be a compelling life partner. The same can be said of this book, which provides some amusing anecdotes of the New Yorker under William Shawn, but largely lacks any kind of insights as to why this publication needed to be eviscerated by Tom Wolfe or why she let her professional ambitions to ...more
Jennifer
wow -- was this disappointing. the quality of writing is not good at all and groth does nothing to endure herself to readers. is this her job? i don't know. probably not. but when you want people to buy and read your story ... a nonfiction memoir ... there's got to be something going on in there to make it worthwhile for readers. i found groth's tone to be very, to use her own word, snooty. which wouldn't be so bad (i mean, she anchored her book around the new yorker, i was prepared to give leew ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Although I don't read The New Yorker, I'm aware of its reputation, the careers launched, the personalities housed there, (and I've certainly read pieces that debuted there, anthologized later); so when offered a review copy of Groth's memoir, I pounced.

This was a book so good I've lost the ability to arrange letters into words. So I apologize now for the jumpy, incoherent gush of a review that follows.

From the first pages, I was sold on Groth.

Mr. [E.B.] White took a moment to absorb this informa
...more
Nette
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This memoir contains a few interesting stories about "New Yorker" luminaries, but mostly it was a boring account of how all the men in the building were entranced by her stunning beauty. ("I was five feet seven, had a 36-26-36 figure, and wore my hair in a twelve-inch blond ponytail. What more did a man need to know?") Her "All that and a bag of Alqonquin Round Table bread sticks" attitude gets old really fast.
Alison
Apr 25, 2012 marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
I got partway into this and finally decide to put it aside as it really wasn't what I'd hoped. It's a memoir about working as a receptionist at the New Yorker, which I thought would be awesomely interesting. Instead it mostly felt just like lots of name dropping of authors and places around NYC. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd read the New Yorker during that time period, or if I new NYC better, but without that deep background knowledge I just didn't find this compelling.
Cynthia Archer
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading the story of Janet Groth, a midwestern girl, who spent much of her working life as a receptionist at The New Yorker. I enjoyed the style of her writing and found it witty and entertaining. I liked the short chapters of her specific relationships and experiences. Contrary to many others' opinions, I even liked some of the name-dropping and didn't find it to be braggadocio on Ms. Groth's part. New York is a fascinating town and I enjoyed the snippets of it seen through the eyes o ...more
Christine Rebbert
Sep 05, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a real disappointment. Although I haven't been a recent reader of the New Yorker, I am a former subscriber and had always enjoyed it, which is why I thought I would enjoy the book. However, the period of time in which Groth was a receptionist there was from the early 1950's to early 1970's, way before I started to read the magazine, and I was unfamiliar with most of the people she talked about. There was a one-sentence reference to Woody Allen; that was about the most familiar pers ...more
Noelle
Aug 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am trying to adopt more of the "it's okay to not finish a book you don't like" attitude (I often feel somewhat guilty and that I'm not giving a fair judgement if I don't read the whole thing). I practiced it with this book. I got a little over 100 pages in an I just really didn't care anymore. I felt like the majority of it was the author name dropping and Listing a bunch of bars/restaurants that she frequented with these people (most of which have not been open for decades). Maybe if I was an ...more
Martha
Jun 26, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition


There are many "inside baseball" books on The New Yorker. This is not the one to read. The book is more about a tiresome parade of boyfriends than the workings of TNY. Flat, often cringe-worthy writing with little insight. Here's a sample of its not-a-drop of-irony prose: "Fritz loved me first. I was 5'7", had a 36-26-36 figure and wore my hair in a 12" blond ponytail. What more did a man need to know?" Disappointing.
Allison
Jul 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For someone who is supposed to be an academic and highly intelligent, this author is a total disappointment as a writer. I got the book to read about the great literary luminaries of mid century America who wrote for the New Yorker. Never have I read a more shallow laundry list of people and events. This author should have had a ghost writer! I'm sure there were wonderful tales to be told of life at the New Yorker, but this book isn't it. Don't waste your time.
Louise
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
2.5 stars

Ultimately, the book is about an ordinary woman's life in extra-ordinary consequences while suffering from daddy issues. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the inner-workings of the New Yorker at that time, but I grew tired of all the name dropping.
Paula Gallagher
Wow, was this boring. All the interesting name dropping I had already read in the advance notices.
Kristen
Ever wonder what the good old days were like, when one could just show up in NYC and land a receptionist gig at a prestigious magazine? One that gave you eight weeks off in the summer, four of them PAID? Sure, she did have the strength of an introduction. That helps. But the woman didn't even attend an Ivy League college! She was a midwestern Lutheran, daughter of grocers! See, that stuff never happens today. Sigh.
Groth's strength is when it comes to describing the characters who worked and/or w
...more
Gail
Jun 26, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Confession: It has been...hmmm...maybe 7 years since I failed to finish a book? I'm one of those people who, once she commits, she gets through a book —— no matter how bad or good (because, as I've found on more than one occasion, sometimes the ending of a book can be so good it makes up for a slow beginning or sluggish middle).

But this book? Nahh...I just...I just couldn't. I'd been invited to a meet and greet at my work with this author next week so I was initially excited to pick this one up
...more
Uwe Hook
Sep 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Groth gets off to a good start, giving us what I would assume most readers would want from a book about an insider's view of The New Yorker in its heyday: Lots of intellectual anecdotes about Joseph Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark. But her vignettes weaken considerably as she gets into the embarrassing details of her love life, her search for herself, and all that other stuff that a young woman from the Midwest in the "Mad Men" era would have gone through in New York City. I don't know ...more
Kay
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I found the beginning a slow start and the pages turning sluggishly, I took a new approach--I began with the last of the 18 vignettes in this memoir, read backwards, and it worked a wonder. The book, that way, became a page-turner. The whole middle-nugget chapters especially sparkled, for I liked living for a while behind the scenes of a magazine I had read faithfully for so many years.
It is a double memoir: first, that of a rural Iowa girl (via the U of Minnesota), rather a bluestocking w
...more
Sara
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got impatient with this book rather quickly and would have given it two stars, even though the first few chapters (about John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, and Muriel Spark) were interesting and well-written. It redeemed itself and became three stars near the end when Ms. Groth (Dr. Groth now, actually) finally dived into describing her dysfunctional Iowa family and her uprooted childhood due to the business misadventures of her alcoholic dad.
It was probably her choice to write in the voice of t
...more
Ana
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I came to this book with great expectations...and perhaps that was the biggest problem.
I've loved The New Yorker for years and as soon as i heard about this book, I was itching to read it. I even placed a special interlibrary loan request since my own city didn't yet have a copy of it.
But almost as soon as I started to read it, i knew it wouldn't be great. The writing is clear enough - i sailed through it in a day or two, all while taking care of my six-month-old - but as to what the writing w
...more
Holly
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
A lot of Goodreads reviewers hated this book, because they expected it to be something it is not. It belongs at the far end of a New Yorker memoirs shelf, and not in the central position with Ved Mehta, Brendan Gill, Renata Adler, Lillian Ross, etc. It's essentially a series of journal entries about a young, attractive woman's dating life in 1960s-1970s New York. Much of the book chronicles Groth's romances, flirtations, and promiscuity, which she ascribes to her physical attractiveness (36-26-3 ...more
Emily
I only give this more than a star because this book has something to do with The New Yorker. That said, I kinda hated it. The first few chapters were alright, but the only true appeal of this book is the soon-crushed hope that it will include dishy gossip about the intellectual milieu of The New Yorker or be written in any sort of intellectual or compelling way.

Worst, I find the sexist and quasi-racist undertones in this book troubling. Sometimes it's easy enough to laugh off as "old man woman
...more
Jennifer S. Brown
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before I review this, I need to confess a weakness for literary tell-alls and for The New Yorker, pre-Tina Brown. This book satisfies both, but is definitely written for a specific audience. Groth spent 21 years as a receptionist at the New Yorker, minus a couple of months when she was tried out in a different position but was summarily moved back. The book harkens back to a much more glamorous time, when folks had three-martini lunches and spent a couple of months each summer in Europe, even on ...more
Bethany
Reading this book, for me, was something akin to The Wizard of Oz. For the first 80% of the book (yes, I read on Kindle), I plowed ahead through an intellectual, disconnected, black and white retelling of events and names of people I struggled to care about. While it painted a picture of life at The New Yorker, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, watching from afar.
And then, suddenly, near the end, everything changed. I can't figure out what happened, exactly. But the author cam
...more
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