#345 ~ Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Published by: Viking

Published on: July 26, 2011

Page Count: 352

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: eGalley downloaded from NetGalley

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

My Review

Katey Kontent, the orphan of a Russian immigrant, lives with her roommate Eve in a boardinghouse in New York City. She is one of many secretaries for a conservative law firm. On New Year’s Eve 1937. Because their curfew is extended, they splurge and go out for the night to a Greenwich Village jazz bar. There, they run in Tinker Grey, a handsome young banker. This chance encounter with a man of means changes the path for both young women as they learn the ropes of having a life of privilege in New York City.

Amor Towles writing caught a hold of my imagination from the beginning. You have a comfortable well-to-do couple entering their golden years in an art gallery. Katey notices a photo in the exhibit from the 1930s and recognizes him immediately. It’s Tinker Grey. Val, her husband, recognizes the name and she doesn’t provide more details about her own relationship with Tinker. It’s not that her memories would hurt their marriage. Far from it. What she wants is to keep them all to herself. Going in to her story with Tinker, one knows that they will not be together forever, but that makes the allure of their story that much more great.

Shortly after Katey and Eve meet Tinker, they are involved in an accident which separates Katey from her friends. The chapters without Eve slowed down the book for me. I was most interested in Katey when she was playing off another character. I felt stranded with her without Eve, Katey felt stranded herself. She was just getting used to those glimpses of the good life that living in a small apartment living on a secretary’s salary. That touch was all it took to mold Katey’s goals for her future. She does all that she can to build herself up without compromising her roots.

The novel’s title is quite appropriate. Rules are everywhere. There are rules governing life in the boardinghouse, acceptable conduct at work in the secretarial pool, for attending parties and for crashing them and for advancing one’s social status. Some of my favorite quotes from the book contain the wisdom that Katey picks up along the way. This quote is my favorite “rule:”

Which is just to say, be careful when choosing what you’re proud of–because the world has every intention of using it against you.

Not all of the passages I marked were rules. In some cases they were truths:

I guess there are two sides to every story. And, usually, they’re both excuses.

Some are simply eloquent:

I suppose we don’t rely on comparison enough to tell us whom it is that we are talking to. 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.

Rules of Civility is reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It shows how much has changed since the glory days of the 20s and what had not. The loss of innocence left in its wake a breath of freedom that characters like Eve and Katey were able to use to their advantage. In the heat of the summer, Towles prose and his settings were a welcome escape. There was no need to try to imagine myself at the jazz clubs, parties or high rise offices. I was already there. Why don’t you join me?

Rules of Civility Giveaway

Viking is graciously allowing me to give away one copy of (US and Canadian residents only). They have also created a recipe for the perfect cocktail to have by your side as you read the novel.

Before you start mixing your drinks, leave a comment here for a chance to win. Please include your Twitter name if you have one. To be eligible, your comment must be received by 11:59EST on Friday, July 29. The winner will be chosen at random using List Randomizer. Good luck and let me know what you think of the drink.


  • At 2011.07.26 09:01, Meghan said:

    No need to enter me in this giveaway – I just read and adored this book myself. I love what you’ve said about rules defining the characters’ lives – it seemed to me a lot of the book was precisely about them knowing the rules and then deliberately breaking them. Those quotes stuck out to me, too, although I’m not so good at marking them!

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    • At 2011.07.26 09:35, JD said:

      Great review. I would love a copy of the book if I’m random enough. My twitter name is @joshuasmeltzer.

      • At 2011.07.26 10:57, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

        Oh no! I don’t have all the ingredients for that drink! I’m hearing a lot of good buzz for this book so I’d love to be entered in the giveaway. My twitter handle is bermudaonion.

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        • At 2011.07.26 12:21, Sandy said:

          I LOVE that first quote. So, so true. And as soon as I arrive home tomorrow, location of my husband’s very well-stocked bar, I shall ask him to make this drink. Please enter me! Twitter: youvegottaread

          • At 2011.07.26 13:07, Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said:

            whoa, that first quote is nice!! thanks for the contest!! I would love to read this!

            inthehammockblog at gmail dot com

            • At 2011.07.26 13:25, lydia presley said:

              This looks fantastic..I had added it to my tbr list on Sunday but now I think I wil bump it up!

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              • At 2011.07.26 13:30, Ti said:

                Love the title. Love the cover even more. It’s not really a book that I’d seek out but after reading your review and the others I’ve read, I have to say that it looks pretty darn good to me now. The cocktail recipe helps 🙂


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                • At 2011.07.26 13:40, Meridith Gray said:

                  Hello, I would love to read this book, it is certainly tantalizing from the looks of your review. My twitter name is Mmmmeridith.

                  Thank you, M. Gray

                  • At 2011.07.26 14:34, Short Story Slore said:

                    Second positive review I’ve read today on this! I’d love to be entered for the giveaway. Thanks! Ashley dot Knight6 @ gmail dot com

                    • At 2011.07.26 15:32, gwendolyn b. said:

                      I like the quotes you’ve picked! I’ve heard good things about this book and I love reading about this time period. However, for my drink, I’ll be happy to splash some orange juice into my ginger ale — the hard stuff makes me blush! Thanks for hosting the giveaway.


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                      • At 2011.07.27 08:15, Care said:

                        This is the second review I’ve seen in as many blogs as I’ve visited today! I think I would like it. And this is also the second book I’ve heard that has a matching cocktail! too fun.
                        My twitter handle (what IS it? – am I showing my age that I grew up in CB radio days?) is BkClubCare.

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                        • At 2011.07.27 09:00, amor towles said:

                          Thank you for your lovely take on the book.

                          • At 2011.07.27 09:32, Elisabeth said:

                            Been seeing this all over the blogsphere and all have glowing reviews! Sounds like a must read to me. Thanks for the giveaway!

                            ladybook21@yahoo dot com

                            • At 2011.07.27 09:36, Beth Hoffman said:

                              Fabulous review, Jennifer! I’d love to enter, here’s my address HoffmanLiterary [at] insightbb [dot] com

                              • At 2011.07.27 11:00, Catherine said:

                                All you had to do to ‘seal the deal’ (grab my full attention) is your mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Especially after recently seeing Woody Allen’s newest film, Midnight in Paris. I absolutely love being taken back to the 1920s…and especially if it is well written. This one sounds wonderful!

                                • At 2011.07.27 23:09, Shannon said:

                                  I was hesitant when I read the book description recently, but your review has changed my mind. =)
                                  tiredwkids at live dot com

                                  • At 2011.07.31 14:25, Amy said:

                                    I’m a Fitzgerald fan and that, along with the fantastic setting of this book, makes it almost a no-brainer for me. But your review gave me a good idea of the intriguing story-line along with the fascinating characters taht make this a book worth reading.
                                    Thank you – this books makes my list!

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                                      • At 2011.08.01 21:40, Megan said:

                                        I love F. Scott Fitzgerald so I’m looking forward to reading this one. If I had any clue what Campari is I’d definitely be partaking in the drink as well!!

                                        • At 2011.08.02 18:03, Yvann said:

                                          No need to enter me in the giveaway – I got a copy off NetGalley. But I will definitely have to look at some F. Scott Fitzgerald if this is similar!

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