Rules of Civility by Amor Towles


Audiobook.  A very smart story centered on Katey who came to Manhattan from Brooklyn to make her way in the mid 1930s.  She becomes friends with Eve who left her family's money behind in Indiana.  They met the perfectly attired Tinker who treats them to the wonders of high-end Manhattan.  The descriptions of what you can do with money in 1938 in Manhattan is like having a very good martini with 2 big olives or perhaps a sidecar made with fresh lemon in a glass rimmed with sugar.  Katey tells the story of their times together from the vantage point of her very successful life in 1966.

The description by Katey of the outfit Eve chose for a night at the Restaurant 21 is masterful:

Her last minute dress was a red silk number with a scooped neckline and she had apparently traded up to her best support bra because the tops of her breasts could be seen from 50 feet in a fog.  She had been careful not to spoil the impression with jewelry.  In a small red lacquered box she kept a pair of graduation day diamonds.  On her ears the studs provided a nice little sparkle that complemented her dimples when she smiled.  But she knew better than to wear them to a place like this where one had nothing to gain from formality and everything to lose by comparison. 

Later Katey, in describing an encounter she is about to have with Tinker, says

As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion whether they are triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment, if the next thing you are going to say makes you feel better, then it's probably the wrong thing to say.  This is one of the finer maxims that I have discovered in life, and you can have it, since it's been of no use to me. 

I rarely have strong feelings about the readers of audiobooks, which is as it should be.  But Rebecca Lowman was exceptional and I wondered if she was just perfect for this book or if she's always so good.

The title Rules of Civility refers to the list of 110 rules that George Washington recorded as a young man, presumably as he considered how to become a successful person.  They appear as an appendix to this book.

I found the book to be a treat from beginning to end.


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