Rules Of Civility: A Novel by Amor TowlesRules Of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towlessticker-burst

Rules Of Civility: A Novel

byAmor Towles

Paperback | June 26, 2012

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From the New York Times-bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow, a “sharply stylish” (Boston Globe) novel of a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society. A perfect gift to give this holiday season.

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.

Heather's Review

Rules of Civility is without doubt one of the most sparkling and delicious novels I have read in a long time. Set in New York just after the jazz age and on the eve of World War II, Rules of Civility seems to pick up where The Great Gatsby left us. And it has all the wit, energy and great storytelling that characterizes Fitzgerald’s ...

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Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, pu...
Title:Rules Of Civility: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.45 × 5.46 × 0.94 inPublished:June 26, 2012Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143121162

ISBN - 13:9780143121169

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Rated 1 out of 5 by from So Boring! I could not get into this book. I'm not one to not finish a book, so I avoided reading it until I could push myself through it.
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC BOOK!! LOVED THIS BOOK SO))))) VERY MUCH!! I LOVED this book so much, I ordered another one for my sister's birthday. I had it shipped directly to her house, with a pair of reading socks from INDIGO. She was thrilled with this surprise. This novel really kept me 100% interested, page after page. I LOVED the writing. Each character kept me wanting to read this powerful story, every step of the way. I could not get enough of this book. I did not want it to end. It was a very emotional story, that made me think about life and relationships. I am currently reading another book, by this author and loving it.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Fell in love with the beautiful writing and capturing of New York in the 1930s.
Date published: 2017-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What a surprise! I bought the book on a whim, its out of my normal genres, but I am so glad I did! I loved the journey, and loved the connection to the generation of my grandmother, with their unique struggles.
Date published: 2017-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from rules of civility excellent book. I loved it
Date published: 2017-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from unexpectedly magical Read this on a whim after going to buy A Gentleman in Moscow and not wanting to splurge on a hardcover. Best decision ever. Immediately went back and bought his other book, because Towles's writing is so refreshing and exciting.
Date published: 2017-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved I read this after A Gentleman in Moscow and found it just as good if not better. One occurs during the 20s and one during the 30s. I wounded if he'll write a novel exploring people and events in each decade.
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from really good Picked this up because I had heard his other work was good, but that was only available in hardcover. This turned out to be great and I went to buy his other book that same week.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great time piece If you liked The Secret Life of Violet Grant, you will also adore this novel
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from love Loved this book, loved his second one even more.
Date published: 2017-01-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit of a slow read I enjoyed many of the descriptions of life in 1930's New York, but I found the pace of the plot to be very slow.
Date published: 2016-12-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fun Summer Read This novel was so much fun! It was a quick read with a drink in hand. It was stylish, elegant and unique, much like the characters. I enjoyed the story, though the real fun was in the writing style and vocabulary choices. New York City, 1930s, jazzy 20-something year olds. You must love art and silliness to enjoy this. Not a memorable read necessarily- nothing extraordinary or even that interesting, but very entertaining!
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Melancholic Overall this book is very melancholy. I find the atmosphere lonely and lacking connection. I don't cite that as a criticism just as explanation for how I felt reading it. Given the time period of the novel it fits. The book is mostly presented from the perspective of the protagonist Katie Kontent who comes across as ambitious but aimless. In fact a good deal of the characters in this book seem aimless and lost, chasing something they aren't even certain of. Sad and lonely and craving human connection. Reminiscent of a moment in which something occurs in life that brings to mind a friend you haven't thought of in a long time that you no longer see. It is similar to the tangent that your mind may take in remembering that person and the things you experienced together.
Date published: 2016-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rules of Civility Rules of Civility perfectly encapsulates a time and a place - New York City between the two World Wars - a time of jazz, hope and opportunity. Two friend, Katey and Evey go out on New Years Eve in 1937 and chance to meet Tinker, a handsome young man in a $1,000 cashmere coat. The story takes place in 1938, told from Katey's perspective. Katey comes from modest means. She starts out in the steno pool and through drive, determination and taking advantage of opportunity works her way up to an editorial job and and a place in the rarefied circle of the New York wealthy. Evey comes from a well-to-do family in the mid-West but does not want to sit back and enjoy her family money on their terms. The three become fast friends but when Evey is injured in an accident where Tinker was the driver, he casts his lot with her. This book is beautifully written with smart, snappy dialogue and an intriguing plot. I was put in mind of the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I would most certainly recommend this excellent novel.
Date published: 2016-08-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Slow A slow account of a womens life in new york starting in the 30s. Boring amd slightly depressing. Although a few decent takes on the quirks of life.
Date published: 2015-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evocative and Engaging A great read set in New York City during the 1930s!
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitely Fun Read Loved this book! Well written and great time piece.
Date published: 2014-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful read I had to slow myself down with Amor's Towles book. It was so delicious in its language and imagery, that I needed time to let the story unfold slowly. Terrific narrative and I was completely immersed in the characters and timeline. I took some time to look up pictures of New York City in 1938 to give me better perspectives of the places and people. I highly recommend this novel. Well done!
Date published: 2014-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Surprising I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It really wasn't what I expected - and I mean that in a good way. The novel was wonderfully written, the characters were likeable (and sometimes despicable at the same time), and I was thoroughly entertained. By way of criticism, I will say that I would have preferred not to have read the prologue before the novel, because it basically gives away the ending, which I would have preferred be left to unravel. My advice: skip the prologue and read it after the last chapter, but before the epilogue ~ enjoy!
Date published: 2014-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful read This novel was great at identifying and showcasing Prohibition-era America's obsession with wealth and high class. The romance wasn't bad, either.
Date published: 2014-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rules of Civility One of those books that you think about between reading sessions and can't wait to return to.
Date published: 2014-01-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Elegant Writing Mr Towles writes in flowing sentences using beautiful language. That aspect of his novel is much appreciated. The plot is less interesting and often confusing. It is not a spell binder, but this period piece was, nonetheless, entertaining.
Date published: 2013-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging historical read After seeing an old friend in a photographic exhibition about the 1930's, Katy reminisces about the man in the picture - Tinker Grey. Hr is as enigmatic as Jay Gatsby, with a mysterious past as well. Katy and her friend Eve vie for Tinker's affections until the events of one evening send the three friends on different paths. Where this will leads them kept me enthralled to the end. And the detailed portrayal of the time period and people living in it was spot on.
Date published: 2013-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! What a wonderful read! Definitely recommending it to all of you!
Date published: 2013-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this book very much I really enjoyed this book. The main character was witty, charming and spunky. I loved the writing and as 20 something year old woman, I found I related to the main character and her dilemmas. I feel as though this book will stick with me as I make decisions about my future.
Date published: 2013-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great A good book! Makes you think about life...
Date published: 2013-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In my top ten This was one of those books that I wish I could erase it from my mind so I could re-read it and have it be new to me all over again. I loved it. I dog-eared pages. I wrote down quotes from it. It's beautifully written and has become one of my all time favorites. Can't say a bad word about it.
Date published: 2013-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it Loved this book.
Date published: 2012-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Nice Alternative to the Great Gatsby This book had been on my to-read list since it first came out, but when I got the chance to meet Amor Towles at a dinner co-hosted by Chapters/Indigo and Penguin, I jumped at the fortuitous opportunity that would "force" me to make time to read this wonderful novel. Reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's period piece, Rules of Civility dramatizes the highs and lows of America in the 1930s. The story is narrated by the main character, Katey Kontent, a highly spirited and independent woman; she is a surprise to encounter, especially in a book about the early half of the 1900s (which, for me, evokes images of a very male-dominated society), and yet she is quite definitive of the strength of the American spirit during the Depression. Her dry wit and sharp observations of the world around her are quite appealing and her ability to remain composed during times of potentially great emotional turmoil is admirable. Her friend, Eve, is not quite as amiable, but she is certainly a driving force in making Katey the stalwart character that she is. The novel abounds with what-ifs that pop up throughout its entirety, including and especially the relationships that might have been. In fact, the whole story rests upon the pivotal moment when Katey and Eve meet the enigmatic Tinker, and all three lives are changed forever. Readers will delight in the various quotable one-liners of Towles' debut novel. Plot & Pacing: 8 Towles’ plot will keep the reader interested until the very end. It begins with Eve in the present and jumps to the past, which is the main setting of the story, when she happens upon candid pictures of Tinker from years past. The initial meeting of the three main characters, the main conflict that occurs, and the aftermath of that event all work together to make for an interesting storyline. Only a few passages seemed slow to me. In general, the story kept me interested enough to keep reading and reading. With the variety of situations in which Katey and her friends find themselves, the reader won’t skip/glaze over too many paragraphs. You’ll want to find out what happens to these folks at the end! Characters: 8 In Katey, Towles has created a very strong, admirable woman who accepts her station in life but refuses to be stuck in it. She is decisive and determined … romantic and sympathetic. Tinker is so enigmatic that the reader fluctuates between thinking him charmingly mysterious and strangely dysfunctional. Eve will remind you of those old classmates at whom you would crinkle your nose and yet whom you secretly admired. When I read her, I imagine one of those old-Hollywood stars with high heels, fur coat, and big sunglasses. Setting: 9 New York City in the 1930s is a character on its own. Towles captures the spirit of the city that never sleeps, suffusing the novel with enough details that makes you want to jump back in time to see how the hubbub of today’s NYC began. It’s interesting to note that some of the places around back then still exist today! Style: 9 Lovers of the written word will delight in Towles’ turns of phrases and witty one-liners. His prose is reminiscent of classic writers without the tedious long-windedness from which other writers suffer. His quotations are rendered by indented hyphens rather than quotation marks, as the French most notably do, which lend to the fluidity of his characters’ conversations. You’ll delight in his quotable quips! Learnability & Teachability: 8 It’s great for the general library, but it’s even better for the classroom bookshelf! FOR TEACHERS: If you're tired of doing The Great Gatsby and are looking for more digestible/likable characters and story lines, try this novel on for size! It renders discussions on similar themes as Fitzgerald's, including love, loss, pivotal choices, power of money, the upper class vs. the lower class, and finding one's identity. POTENTIAL TEACHABLES: The humility of the 1930s (America between the Roaring '20s and WWI); New York in the 1930s; setting as character; the what-if butterfly game (which life moments are truly "pivotal", and which moments occur with no real butterfly effect); what makes characters likable, detestable, repugnant, etc.; satisfying endings; quotable quips; George Washington’s actual rules of civility.
Date published: 2012-11-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not sure what the point of this book is? This book was written with such disorganization, that at times I wondered which character the author was referring to? The story rambled on and on for no particular reason. The most difficult thing to swallow was how the author skipped over the great depression in the heart of New York City. Slogged it out to the end, but I would never recommend it to anyone to read.
Date published: 2012-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting premise, but hard to follow at times Katey Kontent is in her 20's, living in the 1930's of bustling New York City. Sharing a flat with her good friend Eve, they meet a charming ingenue named Tinker Grey at a jazz bar one evening. From the moment that this trio meet, it's a whirlwind friendship full of complicated feelings. Working in a law firm's secretarial pool, Katey has dreams to become more and her ambitions and growing network open up a world of possibilities. As she climbs the social (and career) ladder, Katey gets a taste of how things can be if you're successful, and how some things aren't always what they appear to be on the surface. The story begins many years down the road, as Katey is wandering an art gallery and spots her old friend Tinker in one of the art pieces. Thus begins a trip down memory lane, which was quite an adventurous journey. I had heard great things about this book, and with it being set in New York City with a female main character coming up in her own light, it definitely caught my interest. Unfortunately, it was a bit difficult for me to stay focused on. There was a lot of dialogue, and with the way conversations were formatted in the book (using dashes rather than quotation marks) I felt it a bit confusing to follow. At times, it took me a moment to realize it was still the same person that was talking, or it had switched to the narrative in the same line and actually no longer what was being said out loud. Not necessarily difficult to figure out, but it did make for a more disjointed read, not flowing as easily. I did feel that the three main characters, plus a few of the supporting cast, to be very strongly developed. There was often times that I really did wonder why Katey would be friends with someone as seemingly aloof and flaky as Eve. Whether that was the author's choice or a statement on the personality of Katey, I'm not sure. With a myriad of characters though, I felt it a bit confusing as to who was who, since some important characters were introduced so fleetingly and some that seemed to have a significant moment with Katey are then never to be mentioned again. There was one plot point in the last quarter of the book that I thought was headed towards a "The Help" moment, and there was some promise to that but was then dropped from the story. I wish that scene had happened earlier in the book, to allow for more development on it but perhaps the vision for this book was more about the web of characters, and Katey's career was just a subplot. Setting that aside however, I did enjoy the time and place that Rules of Civility was set in. The 1930's were a very distinctive period in time and seeing that through the eyes of a woman growing up in one of the busiest cities was quite interesting. The premise of the book is definitely what sticks with me more than the individual characters' lives. This, and other reviews can be found on
Date published: 2012-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Smart, terrific, charming This novel transports you totally to a different time and place. Beautifully written with rich, flowing language and interesting characters. Great entertainment all the way through.
Date published: 2012-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic book I enjoyed this book soo much! It is frank, the storyteller is a no nonsense kind of gal with a lot of courage. Loved it.
Date published: 2012-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not to be missed! This book is awesome! I love the story! I love the characters! I love the time and music! This is not a love story by the way =)
Date published: 2012-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must Read One of the best stories I've read in a long time, in large part due to the style of writing. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For Story Lovers I read this novel weeks ago, and have been thinking about how to review it ever since. On one hand, you've got this fantastic Gatsby-esque story, yet it feels unfair to call it that, as though it's trying to live up to something that's already been done, or worse yet, setting it up for failure by making such a claim. This is a story...about a girl, trying to discover herself and find her independance in a city and a society that would be just as content to chew her up and spit her out, during a time that was altogether charming and brutal, a story about best friends, unrequited love, cads, and tycoons. Yes, it has it all, but that's just one thing dominates here, it's as charming as it could possibly be, but there are not life lessons, no "Aha!" moments, just a lovely story about a plucky girl, and a golden age, that I heartily recommend to those who, like me, just love a good story!
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from NOT a must... It wasn't one of those books I couldn't put down or that I was dying to get home to read. The story was slow to start and I was never fully captivated by the it and/or the characters. The few parts I did enjoy were short lived and replaced with "too-long" descriptions- I felt like the author was rambling on and on. Really disappointed by this book.
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The book remains with you... The funniest thing about this book was the moment when, about halfway through, I flipped to the back jacket sleeve and re-read the bio on the author. I just could not believe that a man could write a female character who was so endearing, unique and emotional in the environment she inhabited. The opportunities to make this book more about the late 30's and the upper class life that moved forward without a recognition of the Great Depression were there constantly. Yet Towles focused on the characters that interacted with each other and learned abouth themselves. Any author that can weave TS Eliot quotes into natural dialogue is my hero! If you are a Gatsby fan, read this book!
Date published: 2012-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A sparkling novel Rules of Civility is without doubt one of the most sparkling and delicious novels I have read in a long time. Set in New York just after the jazz age and on the eve of World War II, Rules of Civility seems to pick up where The Great Gatsby left us. And it has all the wit, energy and great storytelling that characterizes Fitzgerald’s work. On a crisp New Year’s eve, Katey Kontent and her boarding house roommate Eve are sitting in a bar, without dates, considering their future, when the very handsome Theodore “Tinker” Grey takes the table next to them and starts chatting them up. He has all the ease and assuredness that comes with being a member of the “in crowd”. The three leave together to celebrate the night and so begins a complex set of relationships. The story takes Katey into haute New York society and from her secretarial pool job to the highest echelons of the publishing industry. We get a very up close look into the social mores of the day through the eyes of a young woman who is smart, independent and way ahead of her time. She has no intention of being anyone’s “baby”. Rules of Civility has all the necessary ingredients – ambition, love affairs, betrayal, crossed loyalties and some twists and turns that make you want the story to go on forever. And it is almost impossible to read without imagining who would play each part in what will inevitably be a movie. You will love this book!
Date published: 2011-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Put this one on your list of 'Must Reads'! I don’t read a lot of ebooks – I’m very much a paperback reader. With ebooks I lose some sense of where I am in a book by not being able to look at it physically. I find it easier to flip back to find some plot point that I want to check or the context in which a character first appeared. So, when I was offered a chance to review Rules of Civility by Amor Towles in an ebook format, I hesitated. But drawn in by the book’s description on the author’s website I took a chance. I am so glad I did. Despite the format, I adored this book! The setting is Manhattan in the late 1930’s. The threat of the Second World War is in the distant future and life, for the most part, is good. The reader sees what New York City was like during that era through the eyes of a young woman surviving quite well on her own in that large metropolis. The author did a fantastic job describing the culture of the young and carefree in an exciting city - so much so that the city takes on a character all of its own. Cocktails, bars, apartments, neighbourhoods and iconic buildings all figure prominently in this book. If you love the romance and cultural aura of New York City, you’ll find plenty of it here. I really liked the protagonist, Kate Kontent. She’s a well-written character – smart, sassy, independent and with a good dose of subtle humour thrown in. She’s isn’t perfect; I picked up hints of envy in some situations and loneliness in others. It’s not that much was said, but rather shown (which I think is one of the trickiest talents a writer can develop and Amor Towles has it in spades). But Kate isn’t a wallflower; she acts on her instincts so that when she isn’t happy about something she takes steps to change it. And this is one of the reasons why the story moved along quickly and flowed so well. Dialogue between Kate and her contemporaries was also well done. I also really liked the portrayal of women in this era. It seems that women in the 1930’s are much further along in society than their later counterparts. The freedom of the earlier era was gone by the 1950’s as the standard of a woman’s worth was depicted with the iconic housedress-wearing female staying home and having babies. But perhaps that was the sign of prosperity. In any case, this freedom surprised me too – I’ve always assumed that any era before the 1950’s had to be a worse one for women in general, but I didn’t pick that up from this novel at all. I loved this book because I like NYC and I found the 1930’s era so interesting to read about. But to enjoy Rules of Civility you don’t have to like those things too because it offers so much more. This book is a well-written, well-rounded great story from an author that I’ll be putting on my must-read list for future books.
Date published: 2011-07-28

Read from the Book

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.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONFive 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 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 TowlesNew York, New York, 2011 ABOUT AMOR TOWLESAmor 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 TOWLESQ. 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 QUESTIONSAt 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?

Editorial Reviews

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