Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rules of Civility: A Cool Read for a Hot Day

Great historical fiction can be a great escape when it transports you to another time with well-researched and lushly-rendered descriptions, and evocative story-telling. With Rules of Civility, Amor Towles delivers a perfect time machine of a novel--he positively owns glamorous, jazzy, 1930s-era Manhattan--plus, it's a rollicking good read.

The setting won’t be unfamiliar to movie buffs with a taste for black-and-white flicks from the ‘30s (picture Rosalind Russell or Kate Hepburn playing the spunky heroine who arrives in Manhattan from the provinces and lands in a boarding house with a wise-cracking roommate). Katey Kontent, fresh from the Midwest, has a job in a typing pool, but it can’t hold her for long: she’s on her way up the career ladder--and the social ladder--fueled by her own limitless smarts and the champagne cocktails she shares with tuxedoed playboys in smoky jazz clubs and on Long Island estates. From the 21 Club to the Lower East Side, Katey is living the dream until a random event demonstrates with painful clarity that choices matter, luck can turn on a dime and people (especially rich people) are often not what they seem. 

In real life, Towles is an investment banker, and this is his debut novel. It was instantly embraced by readers, due at least in part to the fact that he writes about what he knows and loves, and he knows and loves Manhattan. It was such a great favorite with book clubs that it’s been challenging to find a copy on the shelves until now--so if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you’ll definitely want to give this novel a spin. For an added treat, visit Towles’s website ( He offers an iTunes playlist of the music that provides a backdrop to the novel, as well as a map of Manhattan highlighting the book’s key locations and a timeline of the eventful 1930s that puts you in the picture in a very entertaining way. Too cool!

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