Rules of Civility: A Novel

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling novel that "enchants on first reading and only improves on the second" (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

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 ...

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling novel that "enchants on first reading and only improves on the second" (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 
Praise for Rules of Civility

“An irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working class-women and world-weary WASPs in 1930s New York…in the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave – and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.” —O, the Oprah Magazine

“With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.” —The New York Times Book Review

“This very good first novel about striving and surviving in Depression-era Manhattan deserves attention…The great strength of Rules of Civility is in the sharp, sure-handed evocation of Manhattan in the late ‘30s.” —Wall Street Journal

“Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent…[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.” —People

“[A] wonderful debut novel…Towles [plays] with some of the great themes of love and class, luck and fated encounters that animated Wharton’s novels.” —The Chicago Tribune

“Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.” —NPR.org

 “Glamorous Gotham in one to relish…a book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Library Journal
Consider 1930s New York: the era fascinates, and this debut novel likely will, too. Starting on New Year's Eve in Greenwich Village, smart, cool, and ambitious Katey Kontent makes a mad dash from the secretarial pool to New York high society and starts learning that it is her choices that matter. Less fairy tale than the sort of dry-eyed look at American social structure that James or Wharton might provide, this book seems set to recall a glamorous time and place just out of reach.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143121169
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 39,468
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Amor Towles

Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. After working more than twenty years as an investment professional, Towles now writes full time. He is also the author of the novella Eve in Hollywood, available as an e-book. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

It was the last night of 1937.

With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.

From a look around the club, you couldn’t tell that it was New Year’s Eve. There were no hats or streamers; no paper trumpets. At the back of the club, looming over a small empty dance floor, a jazz quartet was playing loved-me-and-left-me standards without a vocalist. The saxophonist, a mournful giant with skin as black as motor oil, had apparently lost his way in the labyrinth of one of his long, lonely solos. While the bass player, a coffee-and-cream mulatto with a small deferential mustache, was being careful not to hurry him. Boom, boom, boom, he went, at half the pace of a heartbeat.

The spare clientele were almost as downbeat as the band. No one was in their finery. There were a few couples here and there, but no romance. Anyone in love or money was around the corner at Café Society dancing to swing. In another twenty years all the world would be sitting in basement clubs like this one, listening to antisocial soloists explore their inner malaise; but on the last night of 1937, if you were watching a quartet it was because you couldn’t afford to see the whole ensemble, or because you had no good reason to ring in the new year.

We found it all very comforting.

We didn’t really understand what we were listening to, but we could tell that it had its advantages. It wasn’t going to raise our hopes or spoil them. It had a semblance of rhythm and a surfeit of sincerity; it was just enough of an excuse to get us out of our room and we treated it accordingly, both of us wearing comfortable flats and a simple black dress. Though under her little number, I noted that Eve was wearing the best of her stolen lingerie.

Eve Ross . . .

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 and Indiana and Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primitive blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs. Every morning in early 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 and, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size.

One of the great advantages that the midwestern girls had was that you couldn’t tell them apart. You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for. But to the native New Yorker, the midwestern girls all looked and sounded the same. Sure, the girls from the various classes were raised in different houses and went to different schools, but they shared enough midwestern humility that the gradations of their wealth and privilege were obscure to us. Or maybe their differences (readily apparent in Des Moines) were just dwarfed by the scale of our socioeconomic strata—that thousand-layered glacial formation that spans from an ashcan on the Bowery to a penthouse in paradise. Either way, to us they all looked like hayseeds: unblemished, wide-eyed, and God-fearing, if not exactly free of sin.

Hailing from somewhere at the upper end of Indiana’s economic scale, Eve 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 six, 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.

That New Year’s, we started the evening with a plan of stretching three dollars as far as it would go. We weren’t going to bother ourselves with boys. More than a few had had their chance with us in 1937, and we had no intention of squandering the last hours of the year on latecomers. We were going to perch in this low-rent bar where the music was taken seriously enough that two good-looking girls wouldn’t be bothered and where the gin was cheap enough that we could each have one martini an hour. We intended to smoke a little more than polite society allowed. And once midnight had passed without ceremony, we were going to a Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue where the late-night special was coffee, eggs, and toast for fifteen cents.

But a little after nine-thirty, we drank eleven o’clock’s gin. And at ten, we drank the eggs and toast. We had four nickels between us and we hadn’t had a bite to eat. It was time to start improvising.

Eve was busy making eyes at the bass player. It was a hobby of hers. She liked to bat her lashes at the musicians while they performed and ask them for cigarettes in between sets. This bass player was certainly attractive in an unusual way, as most Creoles are, but he was so enraptured by his own music that he was making eyes at the tin ceiling. It was going to take an act of God for Eve to get his attention. I tried to get her to make eyes at the bartender, but she wasn’t in a mood to reason. She just lit a cigarette and threw the match over her left shoulder for good luck. Pretty soon, I thought to myself, we were going to have to find ourselves a Good Samaritan or we’d be staring at the tin ceiling too.

And that’s when he came into the club.

Eve saw him first. She was looking back from the stage to make some remark and she spied him over my shoulder. She gave me a kick in the shin and nodded in his direction. I shifted my chair.

He was terrific looking. An upright five foot ten, dressed in black tie with a coat draped over his arm, he had brown hair and royal blue eyes and a small star-shaped blush at the center of each cheek. You could just picture his forebear at the helm of a schooner—his gaze trained brightly on the horizon and his hair a little curly from the salt sea air.

—Dibs, said Eve.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Five years ago, three friends and I set out to read some of the "great books"—or those works of literature that would merit rereading several times over the course of our lives. Meeting once a month, we started with Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and have since worked through the works of Twain and Faulkner, Cervantes and García Marquez, Tolstoy and Nabokov—dwelling over dinner on our favorite passages, on themes and ambiguities, sharing our perspectives.

As someone who has written quietly for twenty years, the notion that a group might gather to discuss a book of mine seems something so fantastic it must be a mirage. So, if you've come this far, I owe you my heartfelt thanks.

What follows are some questions for discussion that might have surfaced in my reading group. If you are interested, there is additional content regarding Rules of Civility at amortowles.com including brief essays on Walker Evans and jazz, a 1930s time capsule, etcetera. You may also submit your thoughts or questions there. And if your reading group is meeting for dinner in New York somewhere between Canal and 34th streets, please let me know. If my schedule allows, I will try to stop by.

Amor Towles
New York, New York, 2011

ABOUT AMOR TOWLES

Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. He is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.

A CONVERSATION WITH AMOR TOWLES

Q. Why did you decide to write a book set in the late 1930s, and how did you research the period?

I've always had a great interest in the period between 1900 and 1940—because it was a time of such incredible creative combustion.

In retrospect, the pace of change in the arts and industry in the nineteenth century seems pretty glacial. Painting, music, the novel, architecture were all evolving, but at a pretty observable pace. Then in the span of a few decades you have James Joyce, Cubism, Surrealism, jazz, Nijinsky, Henry Ford, the skyscraper, Sigmund Freud, the Russian Revolution, movies, airplanes, and the general upending of received forms in almost every area of human endeavor.

Over the years, I listened to the music, saw the movies, read the novels and manifestos, lingered in front of the paintings. So I really didn't do any applied research for the book. Rather, I tried to rely on my secondhand familiarity with the period to orient my imagination.

Q. Why did you decide to write a book from the perspective of a young woman?

Some writers such as John Cheever and Raymond Carver, seem to draw artistic energy from analyzing the realm of their own experiences—their social circles and memories and mores. I'm one of those who draw creative energy from the opposite. I prefer to put myself in an environment that's further afield and look through the eyes of someone who differs from me in age, ethnicity, gender, and/or social class. I think a little displacement makes me a sharper observer. It's that challenge of trying to imagine what's on top of the—the small thing that's always there on the periphery that somehow brings events into focus.

Q. Were there any personal influences from the 1930s that informed the book?

None of the characters in the book are based on anyone in particular. But three of my grandparents and a great-grandmother lived into their late 90s or early 100s. My maternal grandparents lived across the street from me in the summers and I'd see them every day. Over lunch when I was in my twenties, it was great fun to talk with them about their lives between the wars—when they were young adults. My grandmother, who was simultaneously a woman of manners and verve, fended off marriage proposals until she was thirty because she was having too much fun to settle down. Like the book's narrator, she pushed a rival in furs to drink before ultimately accepting my grandfather's proposal.

To some degree, these conversations (with my grandmother in particular) solidified my view that her generation was less Victorian than my parents' generation. I think the 1920s and 1930s had a certain openness that was countered by the conformity of the 1950s.

Q. Talk about the role of chance encounters in the book.

One of the central themes in the book is how chance meetings and offhand decisions in one's twenties can define one's life for decades to come. I think there is something universal about this dynamic; but it was certainly my experience.

In 1989, I had a fellowship to teach for Yale in China for two years. I came back from California to New Haven to spend the summer learning Chinese, but because of Tiananmen Square, Yale cancelled the program. They gave us each a few thousand dollars and sent us on our way. I had all my belongings in my car and had no idea what to do with myself. As it turned out, an old friend needed a roommate in New York to split the rent, so I moved here.

My first night in the city, I got invited to a party at the home of an acquaintance. There, I met a few people who ultimately became close friends. In retrospect, a number of careers and marriages sprang from the intersection of social circles at that party—but we certainly didn't realize the importance of the encounters at the time. We were just meeting for drinks, making haphazard alliances and cursory decisions, shaping our futures unwittingly.

Q. Do you think Katey's story could have occurred somewhere other than New York?

I certainly hope so. I think the book's themes of self-invention, aspiration, love and loss, are recognizable in any corner of America. But one interesting aspect of New York is that it is a leading capital for advertising, art, broadcasting, fashion, finance, food, journalism, music, publishing, theater, and so on. This means that every year, young people from all over the world with very different backgrounds, interests, and ambitions descend on the city. They are all looking to establish connections (in the E. M. Forster sense as well as the Dale Carnegie sense). This just increases the odds that the person you sit next to at a diner could change your life in very unexpected ways.

Q. Tell us about George Washington and his Rules of Civility.

I'm very interested in periods where there is a density of creative invention: Like the early Renaissance in Tuscany (with Massacio, della Francesca, Botticelli and Donatello), or jazz in the late 50s in New York (with Davis and Coltrane and Monk and Gillespie); or crime drama on TV in the 70s (with Kojak, Rockford, McGarrett, and Columbo). Throughout history there seem to be these brief periods when a group of varied talents come together and advance a whole art form by leaps and bounds. In some semi-competitive or cooperative dialogue, the players bring out the best in each other by spurring inspiration and risk taking, while defining new forms and frontiers. When I find a period like this I like to delve.

One of those periods for me is the revolutionary period in America. Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin were all men of such sweeping talent and character. In an incredibly short period, they formulated a system of ideals and practical applications, which has served us well for centuries.

Initially, I imagined Tinker as an avid student of the period. But once into the book, I happened to pull a collection of Washington's writings off my shelf, which led off with his "Rules of Civility"—and I knew right away that the "Rules" should be the primary thing that Tinker had studied. My book investigates social stratification & manners, character & appearance, ideals & compromise—and Washington's youthful list somehow seems at the heart of the whole crazy matter.

Q. The book investigates the nuances of social strata in the 1930s. Do you think the influence of class is the same in today's America?

I'm not a sociologist, but it seems to me that the composition of America's social strata has changed in meaningful ways since the first half of the century. The Second World War and the GI Bill were great leveling influences, in which many working class individuals migrated from their ethnic communities toward a more homogenous middle class. At the same time, the aristocratic families of the 1920s began to abandon the outward pomp of cotillions and tails. Wonder Bread, Budweiser and Chock Full o'Nuts found their place in pantries high and low (with consistency and low price being attained at the expense of differentiation and flavor). This convergence has had weird byproducts: The vast of majority of Americans, spanning a wide array of economics (from the statistically rich to the statistically poor), now identify themselves as "middle class." And where in the first half of the century the struggling youth would have aspired to the narrow circles of aristocracy, in recent decades the affluent youth have aspired to the fashion and cadences of the inner city.

But having made these rough generalizations about transformation, I'd say that many aspects of the 1930s social behavior still prevail. We clearly still live in an aspirational society. We have just exited half a decade when virtually every tier of the American economy has borrowed money in order to buy bigger cars and bigger houses with better fixtures. And we still have American youth in pursuit of mobility, though mobility today may mean getting to wear sneakers at a start-up, rather than being accepted to a country club.

Q. Could you describe how the book was written?

In my late thirties and early forties, I wrote a novel set in the farmlands of Stalinist Russia, which I ultimately stuck in a drawer. It's pretty depressing to work on something for seven years and dislike the outcome.

That book had five points of view and a series of complex events that had been roughly outlined. As an investment professional with two young children, this structure proved hellish. Every time I sat down to work on the book, I needed two hours just to figure out where I was. Worst of all, in rereading later drafts, I often found that the material from the first year was the best.

So in launching a new book, I decided it would be a distinctive first person narrative; all events and characters would be carefully imagined in advance; and it would be written in one year. After a few weeks of preparation, I started Rules of Civilityon January 1, 2006, and wrapped it up 365 days later. The book was designed with twenty-six chapters, because there are fifty-two weeks in the year and I allotted myself two weeks to draft, revise and bank each chapter.

I revised the book thoroughly three times over the next three years (mostly making it shorter); but the original constraint of a twelve-month draft proved a much more effective artistic process for me than an open-ended one. Not coincidentally, the book opens on New Year's Eve and ends a year later.

Q. What have you been reading?

Around the time I turned forty, in reading Where Shall Wisdom Be Found, Harold Bloom's tribute to reading literature for wisdom, I was struck by how little time I had left to read seriously. I figured I was lucky if I could read one book deeply per month. If I lived to 80, that was 480 more books. With that shocking consideration as a backdrop, three friends and I formed a group to read extraordinary works of literature.

The acid test for books of inclusion has been that they have been proven by history to merit multiple readings in a lifetime. We started with Remembrance of Things Past and then read works of Twain, Whitman, Dickinson, and Thoreau as a precursor to reading works of Faulkner. Then we did Cervantes and Borges before reading García Marquez. Last year we read through Nabokov's American period and we have now moved on to Tolstoy.
 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • At the outset, Rules of Civility appears to be about the interrelationship between Katey, Tinker, and Eve; but then events quickly lead Eve and Tinker offstage. Are Dicky Vanderwhile, Wallace Wolcott, Bitsy, Peaches, Hank, and Anne Grandyn as essential to Katey's "story" as Tinker and Eve? If so, what role do you think each plays in fashioning the Katey of the future?
  • Katey observes at one point that Agatha Christie "doles out her little surprises at the carefully calibrated pace of a nanny dispensing sweets to the children in her care." Something similar could be said of how Katey doles out information about herself. What sort of things is Katey slow to reveal, and what drives her reticence?
  • After seeing Tinker at Chinoisserie, Katey indicts George Washington's "Rules of Civility" as "A do-it yourself charm school. A sort of How to Win Friends and Influence People 150 years ahead of its time." But Dicky sees some nobility in Tinker's aspiration to follow Washington's rules. Where does your judgment fall on Tinker? Is Katey wholly innocent of Tinker's crime? Where does simulation end and character begin? Which of Washington's rules do you aspire to?
  • A central theme in the book is that a chance encounter or cursory decision in one's twenties can shape one's course for decades to come. Do you think this is true to life? Were there casual encounters or decisions that you made, which in retrospect were watershed events?
  • When I told my seven-year-old son that I had written a book that was going to be published, he said: That's great! But who is going to do the pictures? While the Walker Evans portraits in the book may not meet my son's standards of illustration, they are somewhat central to the narrative. In addition, there are the family photographs that line Wallace Wolcott's wall (including the school picture in which Tinker appears twice); there are the photographs of celebrities that Mason Tate reviews with Katey at Condé Nast; there are the pictures that end up on Katey and Valentine's wall. Why is the medium of photography a fitting motif for the book? How do the various photographs serve its themes?
  • One of the pleasures of writing fiction is discovering upon completion of a project that some thread of imagery has run through the work without your being aware—forming, in essence, an unintentional motif. While I was very conscious of photography as a motif in the book, and the imagery of fairy tales, here are two motifs that I only recognized after the fact: navigation (expressed through references to the Odyssey; to the shipwrecks of the Titanic, Endurance, and Robinson Crusoe; and through Thoreau's reckoning and pole star metaphors); and the blessed and the damned (expressed through scattered references to churches, paradise, the inferno, doomsday, redemption day, the pietà and the language of the Gospels). What role do these motifs play in the thematic composition of the book? And if you see me in an airport, can you please explain them to me?
  • Upon completion of this book, one of my guilty pleasures has been imagining how Eve was doing in Hollywood. When Eve says, "I like it just fine on this side of the windshield," what does she mean? And why is the life Tinker offers her so contrary to the new life she intends to pursue? If you register at my Web site, on the first of the year I will send you a short story on Eve's progress.
  • When Tinker sets out on his new life, why does he intend to start his days saying Katey's name? What does he mean when he describes Katey as someone of "such poise and purpose"? Is the book improved by the four sections from Tinker's point of view, or hindered by them?
  • T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is referenced in the book's preface and its epilogue. Why is that poem somehow central to Katey's 1969 reflections on her 1938 experiences?
  • Please don't answer this last question until the wine bottles are empty and the servers are waiting impatiently to clear your table: In the epilogue, Katey observes that "Right choices are the means by which life crystallizes loss." What is a right choice that you have made and what did you leave behind as a result?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 440 )
Rating Distribution

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(213)

4 Star

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(54)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 442 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 27, 2011

    Saucy and sophisticated: highly recommend!

    I flew through Rules of Civility in two sittings -- two, only because I had to go to work in between! It's the kind of book you hope for in a summer read but can never quite seem to find: witty and fun without leaving you feeling like you've eaten cotton candy or insulting your intelligence. Towles' New York City is so textured -- from the gritty Lower East Side of the 30s to the smooth-like-velvet Upper East and West -- I found myself wanting to go back in time and drink a martini with his heroine, Katy Kontent and the wacky cast of characters she finds herself among. What a pleasure to have found a smart summer read!

    28 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    My FAVORITE book of 2011 so far!

    Type: {Impress Your Friends Read: notable; prize-winner or all around intelligent crowd conversation piece.}
    Rating: {An Unputdownable: Couldn't eat or sleep until I finished this book.}

    Why You're Reading It:

    - You want to read the book that I am calling my favorite of the year, so far!
    - New York City, 1930's? You're hooked!
    - A smart, witty, & complex variety of characters are enough to convince you to read a book.
    - Beautiful prose, continuously moving plots, rich details, and convincing story lines make a book a keeper in your eyes.

    What I Thought:

    Hello, and welcome to New York City in the 1930's. Not only will you find the glamour, the music, the lingo, and the romance of one of the golden ages of the city, you will also meet one of the most refreshing protagonists in literature - Katey Kontent. Let's follow Miss Kontent through a flashback to the year of 1938 - a year that defined her life - and meet the exquisite cast of characters that Amor Towles creates on the pages of his debut novel, The Rules of Civility. Against the backdrop of a time when anyone could become anything and women were starting to make their own paths to the top, Towles creates a peephole back through time that has you turning page after page wishing you could actually be there, even just for a moment, to catch a glimpse of the sleek and confident Anne, the charming Tinker, the lively Eve, sweet and sincere Wallace, or intelligent, witty, down-to-earth Katey. (This is the second book of the year with a character named Wallace. Though I'm still waiting for a female Wallace to emerge in literature - this book's Wallace was a tribute to the name!)

    My very favorite read this year, landing a spot on my favorite books ever, I was absorbed by this delicious novel. Balancing the thin line between eating it up in one bite but knowing how much I would regret doing that once it was finished - I paced myself so that I could enjoy the company of this book for as long as possible. Towles did an extraordinary job of creating the scene, making realistic characters, and spinning a plot that a reader can care about. The lessons in these pages are timeless even if the era in which they are portrayed is exact (and thoroughly enjoyable). I highly, highly recommend this book to everyone. There are very few books that I re-read, but this will be one of them. The charming dialogue, the poignant passages, the intelligent references, and the three-dimensional characters make this poetic, philosophical book, about life and the individual experiences that shape it, fun to read and easy to digest.

    Over and over, I exclaimed to myself (out loud of course, because it doesn't count if people don't think you're crazy), "I love this book. I LOVE this book!" I also can not get over how much I adore the character of Katey; and how fast they will probably turn this into a movie (and probably should), but how very, very sad I'll be because this is a book that belongs to the imagination - it's that magical.

    26 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    An sxciting book!

    In Rules of Civility the setting is Manhattan in the late 1930's. I enjoyed the history of what New York City was like during that era through the eyes of a young woman surviving on her own in the city. The description of the culture of the carefree young in an exciting city was exciting to me. Kate, the main protagonist, is a smart, sassy independent girl who takes charge of her own life and if she isn't happy about something she fixes the problem. Frankly, I was surprised at the freedom women had from the perception I've always had before women's lib. I enjoyed the penetrating storyline so much, of its setting and the bigger ideas that are presented in the mix of people and social organizations, introspection, question of civility in all things. It was a much more social time when technology seems to limit the necessity. Madison Pridgen, A member of Between the Lines book club

    16 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2011

    The Stunner of the Summer (and beyond!)

    An utterly satisfying, elegant, literary and delicious novel that puts front and center one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever had the pleasure of spending time with. This is the story of Katey Kontent, inauspiciously born and raised by a Russian immigrant father on the Lower East Side, she's made her own way through gritty, Depression-Era New York to find herself holding her own in the secretarial pool of a white collar law firm. With her endlessly curious mind, originality and irreverence, she's clearly made for more, but it's not until a chance encounter with the patrician banker, Tinker Grey, that she is granted the possibilty of entree--for better and for worse--into an exclusive world of New York's Haute Monde. This is a coming-of-age novel, a love letter to New York City during a moment of artistic foment, a study of class and manners, and an unexpected love story wrapped in one. If you love Hornby, Nicholls, Melissa Bank, Midnight in Paris, Mad Men, Aaron Sorkin and/or Capote, you will not be able to resist this one.

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2011

    A sophisticated, historical, character-driven exciting romp through 1938.

    I didn't know what to expect from this book. But I can say I couldn't put it down. Following Katey Kontent (that's content like happy not KON-tent like content of a book thank you very much) and her friend Eve, whom she affectionately calls Evey, is full of twists and turns and surprises that I didn't even see coming. It's characters and scenery of NYC during 1938 are so well evolved and scandalous and rich and beautiful and sumptuous, you can almost feel what they are wearing and eating and drinking and seeing! The writing, the story, the words are so sophisticated, so dreamy, so lifelike, you can picture the entire story in your head. I even starting seeing is a movie in my head and thinking of stars who would play the parts because the book so vividly takes you back to a bygone era of gin and whisky and jazz bars and good ol fashioned blue blood antics and sassafrass. It's a must read.

    9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2012

    In this story, the rules of civility and the rules of duplicity occupied the same space, living side by side, until the characters found themselves. Whether they were successful is subject to interpretation.

    In the mid 1960’s, at a photography show, Katey Kontent tells her husband that she recognizes one of the subjects in two pictures. He is shown in two versions of himself, one as a rich man and another as a poor one. His upper crust photo is not the latest one, as her husband thought. Katey’s memory is jarred and the story proceeds backwards. almost thirty years, to the 1930’s and the time she met Theodore “Tinker” Grey. America has come out of the depression. Young people are finding work. Women have few opportunities to advance in the working world; secretarial skills are paramount. Seeking a husband, preferably well-heeled, is the goal of many. Social climbing has become an art form. This is a story about ambition, about how people behave, about their hopes and how they go about achieving them, about social justice and injustice, perception, true and false. It is as much about class distinction as it is about the blurring of those lines. There is a proper way to behave befitting those in polite society and those imposters, as well, that seek to join that rarefied atmosphere. Running through the book is a central theme about manners, manners based on a little primer, handwritten by George Washington, containing 110 rules of civility. They govern every conceivable kind of behavior, public and private, which a lady or gentleman or impersonator of such, would follow, to appear well-bred. It is as much about the arrogance of the rich as it is about the impertinence of the poor. It is a story about real people, how they seek happiness, friendship, love, about rivalry and misunderstandings, hopes and dreams. It is about which of our goals are important and why. It is about Katy, and those of her era, coming of age, coming into their own. The book is about wealth, the kind one is born to, the kind one dreams about. It is about civility and also about duplicity. There is so much deception that no one really knows anyone’s true background. It would seem the characters have all written a portion of their own biographies as they all impersonate different persona, sneaking in and out of the world of the rich and famous with aplomb and then back into the world of the working poor. The book makes it seem easy. The author defines the characters so well, you can visualize them. He uses every world with precision so that it has perfect pitch and meaning. The times and places are captured perfectly. The expressive use of vocabulary was a listening extravaganza. Because I listened to an audio, and there were so many characters, I did sometimes lose the thread of the dialogue. Even when I rewound, I couldn't recapture what I missed. Sometimes, places and characters appeared, seemingly at random, then disappeared and reappeared again later on. Occasionally, I was left unable to remember what role they played in the narrative. In a hard copy, I could easily have looked back. In the end, however, all the characters were accounted for and all the missing pieces were tied together and explained so I lacked nothing for having listened to, rather than read, the written word. The reader was excellent.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful!

    It took me two days to read this book I couldn't put it down! It was well written and expressed every emotion possible. I was surprised by the ending of the book it definately shocked me. The characters were engrossing and the details to the era down to the clothes were awesome. I am recommeding this to my friends and family.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2011

    Best in awhile

    I was hooked from the first few pages. It had been awhile since I so fell in love with a main character. Such a great read, I felt like I was in 1938. I wish there was more!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    A Great Summer Read!

    I enjoyed this novel more than I've enjoyed anything else, in a long time. The characters are believable and well developed. I was very sad to see 1938 come to an end!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2011

    Really enjoyable book - great read!

    RULES OF CIVILITY is fun, sophisticated and witty! A fantastic debut by Towles; I couldn't put it down! Definitely a must-read for the summer.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    Entertaining

    This is the perfect book to read when you have a summer cold, which is how I read it. The heroine, Katey, has a pedigree that resembles Daisy Buchanan out of Lily Bart. Her moral compass in choosing among her options is almost too good to believe. The writing, particularly the dialogue and the descriptive evocation of place and time, is superb. (An example, summarizing a character's affinity for jazz: "It was everything he liked about the world: you could smoke to it, drink to it, chatter to it. And it didn't make you feel guilty for not giving it your full attention.") Nevertheless, I refuse to award more than 3 stars to any writer who doesn't acknowledge that "lay" is a transitive verb.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2011

    Don't miss this one!

    Having been a voracious reader in a reading slump for many months, I was so delighted to have found "Rules of Civility" in my new books bag. I purchased this book for a book club and I am the first to read it. I can't wait to report to everyone I actually finished a book and was sorry to see it end. I rarely give glowing book reports because I think other members may be disappointed when they take the time to read my recommendation. In this case, I have no doubt all the members of my three book clubs will be delighted with this selection. I agree with the other reviewers in their accolades about the characters, the writing style, the transportation to other places, etc. This book was a guilty pleasure that made me stop everything just to read and to get totally lost in another time and place. More than just enjoying reading, this book made me think about the choices I had made along the way.

    I know "Rules..." was carefully researched and beautifully written and must have taken some time to complete but I am just hoping that I don't have to wait too long for Mr. Towles' next book.

    P.S. I was definitely surprised that was a male author.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2012

    Highly recommend

    Could not recommend this book more highly. Beautifully written.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2011

    Not believable

    Katie sounded like how a man thinks a cool girl would sound not like a real woman my discomfort with her voice was explained when I read that the author was a man

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2011

    Cannot live up to the title or era

    This book is a great disappointment. If you love Edith Wharton and are expecting to find more of the like, then don't bother. The text lives up to neither the cover photo or the title. The characters are flat and grossly undeveloped, and there is no sense of place, location, or period. I am forcing myself to finish ONLY because I spent $13 on the e-book and don't want to get in the habit of ordering and abandoning books just because it is so easy.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    Simply a fantastic read!!

    Smart, witty, funny, exquisitely sophisticated and well written! Great characters set in the history of NYC truly evoke the aura of Fitzgerald & even at times a bit of O.Henry. One of the best books I've read in years, possibly ever! Mr. Towles would do the reading public a great service if he continued writing after this first novel...

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Loved it!

    Loved this book. I felt like I was actually experiencing 1938 in NYC. The book brought images of jazz clubs, the Plaza, and the 21 club to life. When people actually dressed up to go out and it was fashionable for women to smoke and drink gin. The only complaint, and it's not so much a complaint, is my expection of the book was that it was a story of a relationship between Katy and Tinker and that would be the main plot. But actually it was a year (1938) in the life of Katy Kontent and all of her relationships and experiences that year. Still a very enjoyable book. Made me think how I would be living in that era.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Great Book!

    Really enjoyed this book! If you liked The Great Gatsby - you'll enjoy Rules of Civility.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2012

    Highly Recommended!

    This story of the elite and the wannabees in 1938 Manhattan draws the reader into the golden age with its tapestry of youthful escapades. While painting a black-and-white visual of the characters, the book is rich in shades of grey - no one is all good or evil. The inclusion of literary references is plentiful, but not overdone, providing a beautiful backdrop of comparisons to aid in the understanding of the era.
    My only regret is that it ended too soon - I wanted more!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2012

    OH MY GOSH!!! What a read, absolutely worth reading. I was spel

    OH MY GOSH!!! What a read, absolutely worth reading. I was spellbound
    by the main character. You can see inside her soul. Could not put it
    down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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