Tagline: We couldn’t decide, so we’re reading it all.
The name of our new club started off as a joke that stuck, made all the more appropriate by my inability to think up a memorable name with staying power. It’s fitting. We never did come to a consensus on what genre to read other than everything, please. Like me, many of you experienced mild angst when it seemed one genre was in the lead. When everyone called out “Contemporary Literature and Fiction!” I immediately thought of no less than 12 young adult books I wanted to read, and all of a sudden the idea of a book club centered on anything else pained me. Those dozens of young adult books about dystopian societies overthrown by packs of time-traveling mythical creatures in love with humans dangled above my head like forbidden fruit. (Weird how the fruit hung in series of 3-5 and came with optioned movie rights.)
Once I decided we should read whatever sounded good, I sat down with a few avid readers to decide on our first book. It was as easy as eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
I don’t need to tell you how crazy I drove Andrea, Gail, and Erin. I don’t need to tell you because I’m sure they’ll tell you in the comments. Let me explain. It’s not that I’m indecisive. No, seriously. Nicole described me best when she said, “It’s not that you are indecisive. It’s that you over-think every decision you make.”
I do.† By training or nature, I’m a strategist. I plot, and anticipate, and foresee, and predict, and then act. Then I reevaluate and course correct, often when it’s completely unnecessary. To pick out our first book I consulted several book club forums, The NY Times, The LA Times, National Public Radio, Good Reads (you can friend me at that link), Facebook, Book List, Amazon, and countless other sources. I even consulted Pinterest (you can follow me at that link) to see if I could get a feel for popular book club pics. (Don’t ask. I don’t even know.) (In my defense, there were a lot of book club boards.) (Lots of pins on The Help.) (Even I’ve read that one.)
In the end, thanks to a flurry of emails and mad Googling skills, I decided on Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles.
Here is the description:
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.
The story opens on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.
Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
I picked this book (with the help of Andrea, Gail, and Erin) because it was the one book several people suggested in the comments a few weeks ago. It’s not a new release, so it should be available in most libraries. The reviews have been favorable, and it sounds like an enjoyable read.
“The new novel we couldn’t put down…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
“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.”
“Even the most jaded New Yorker can see the beauty in Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility, the antiqued portrait of an unlikely jet set making the most of Manhattan.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
“The best novels are the ones that completely transport you to another time and place. This beautifully written debut does just that. With wit, wisdom, and rich language, Towles introduces a cast of unforgettable 1938 New Yorkers, who change the book’s heroine in surprising and absorbing ways.”
-J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine
“Terrific. A smart, witty, charming dry-martini of a novel.”
-David Nichols, author of One Day
“Part love story, part social observation, 100 percent absorbing.”
“It’s the Depression, and a gal Friday with a mouth like Dorothy Parker’s is dallying with the smart set…turns out she’s not the only climber. A joyride through the ups and downs of 1930s high society.”
“A smashing debut…remarkable for its strong narrative, original characters and a voice influenced by Fitzgerald and Capote, but clearly true to itself.”
“The characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue is sharp and Towles avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality to which a lesser writer might succumb. An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn’t seem more familiar with his characters or territory.”
I’m excited to read it, but I’m really excited to start The Phenomenally Indecisive Book Club (PIBC). (I’m still not sure about that name. I know. Kill me now.) This is a book I would normally walk past, only because there are so many books to read that I am prone to making safe selections among authors I have already read. I hope each book we pick falls outside our comfort zone and exposes us to something we wouldn’t normally experience. To me, that’s what makes a book club great.
PIBC officially starts in February, so we have two weeks to secure our copies of Rules of Civility. Next week we’ll talk about where we will “meet” and how often. And, because I’ve had this question a few times now, I want to confirm that anyone is welcome to participate. There is no official membership, unless we decide to move to a private chat area like Google +, Yahoo Groups, Facebook, or Good Reads to discuss the books.