Jenny's Reviews > The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

The Receptionist by Janet Groth
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's review
Jun 23, 2012

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bookshelves: memoir-biography

EarlyWord blurb

Possibly I expected too much from this slim memoir of Jan Groth's twenty-one years as the receptionist at The New Yorker. There is a good deal of inevitable name-dropping; yet many names have been changed. More, the book covers a time in her life when, as a transplanted Midwesterner and aspiring writer, she is insecure about her own identity, and suffers from a sense of being victimized, exploited, and stereotyped as a dumb blond. It is the story of personal growth, borrowing the glamorous aura of the august magazine. Overall, I cannot say that I was very interested, but at least it was not terribly long.


There was no talking down. If, in the course of opening a book, [John Berryman] paused to give us a disquisition on the correct way to open books, it was never with an air of condescension. Rather, he managed to convey the idea that there was always a best way to do even the simplest things, and to credit us with wanting to know that best way. (16)

But most broken relationships have codas, and ours was no exception. (99)

That moment to which Saint John of the Cross was referring when he spoke of "the dark night of the soul" never comes to most of us, not because we experience no comparable state, but because we find it hard to justify the grandeur of the phrase. (104)

One of the things I appreciated most about the receptionist job was the way it expanded to allow me to try on half a dozen or so alternate lives. (116)

"Nobody gonna harm you if you can just make 'em remember they a human bein'. You got to treat 'em like one and that's how you remind 'em they is one." (164-165)

I thought, It is so easy to make a man ridiculous. One has only to say no. I suppose that's why they hate us so. (174)

Please don't show us how like little boys you are. We don't want to see how vulnerable you are. We come to you for strength and protection. If you show that you are weak, like us, we are confronted in a way that you are not - no, you really are not, having on some level known it all along - that we are alone, that no one is safe, and that men and women can only cling to one another, suspended over the void. (181)

To be competitive in a healthy and effective way, you have to know what you want, and how to fight for it. (199)

Moving alone through unfamiliar landscapes, surrounded by strangers speaking a language I didn't understand, was a way of granting myself a parole ticket, of being able to say, You see, it is quite natural not to understand what people are saying to me, not to know what is expected of me or how I should respond. I am, after all, a person from another country. (199-200)

I was, from my earliest appearance on the scene, a hypersensitive social barometer of the impression I was making on those around me. (209)

"We are all of us searching for a perfect family. Sometimes we substitute material things, but often in the friendships we form, the lovers we take, the mates we marry, we are arranging for ourselves the understanding mother, the good father, the loving brother and sister we yearn for, the things we missed in our own." (220)


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