Another one, you say? Wow, do you read fast! I do, but only when I’m not writing, and since right now I’m hovering in the twilight between Sweet Salt Air and my next book, I have time. As always, this isn’t as much a book review as a recommendation. I can only tell you what I like. I won’t pan the work of other authors. Different readers like different books, right?
If you like my books, though, there’s a chance you may like the books I like.
Actually, I didn’t want to like Rules of Civility. It’s set largely in the late 1930s and deals with the lives of the rich in New York City, neither of which are generally my cuppa. I also read the opening pages online and wasn’t wild about the characters. But this book was the October pick of my book group, and since I hadn’t read the September pick, I stuck with it.
I’m so glad I did. I admire a well-written book, and this one was that. At no point did I wonder where in the world an editor was. The prose was smooth, the dialogue catchy, and if the metaphors came a little too close to one another, they were clever nonetheless. Once past the intro, the characters took hold. I came to really care about them.
When Amazon picked this book as its best book of the month for August 2011, here’s what it said, “Set during the hazy, enchanting, and martini-filled world of New York City circa 1938, Rules of Civility follows three friends–Katey, Eve, and Tinker–from their chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year’s Eve through a year of enlightening and occasionally tragic adventures. Tinker orbits in the world of the wealthy; Katey and Eve stretch their few dollars out each evening on the town. While all three are complex characters, Katey is the story’s shining star. She is a fully realized heroine, unique in her strong sense of self amidst her life’s continual fluctuations.”
I disagree. I did not feel that Katey was a fully realized heroine. I felt that Tinker was the true subject of the story, which explains why we never learn much about Katey’s background, her education or home life as a child, or the emotions she feel through the book. Perhaps this was the effect of a male author trying to see the world through the eyes of a woman. But Rules of Civility is enough of a well-written, well-paced story to make up for that. It’s the old piece-of-the-pie defense. An author can only cover a single piece of the pie in a given book. What this author, Amor Towles does, he does well.
And New York? The city becomes a character here. The author clearly adores it and certainly did his homework when it came to capturing what (I imagine) New York was like in the 30’s.
That said, I loved the timelessness of this book. The observations of human nature were spot-on. Change the background, and these characters could have experienced similar challenges in most any time period, including the present. There were coming-of-age elements, unrequited-love elements, decadent-aristocracy elements. All are timeless.
So I add this book recommendation to my list. BTW, if you’ve missed any of the earlier recs, you can find them in the BONUS PAGE in the sidebar to the right of this blog. I’ve called the page “On Barbara’s Nightstand.” Check back often to see which books I add to the pile.