From Incredulous to Love While Reading Rules of Civility

BlogHer Review

I was feeling combative, generally, when I picked up (or loaded, really, since it was an e-book) Amor Towles' Rules of Civility. “Who is this guy?” I thought churlishly, “What kind of a name is that?” Naturally I Googled it, with indignation in my heart. His bio states he’s an investment banker in Manhattan, so my hackles went up. “What does he know about being a woman in New York in the ’30s?” Not that I know anything about being a woman in New York in the 1930s. But I know what it’s like being a woman, so I went ahead and marked that as Strike 1.

Confession: I must approach Mr. Towles, hat in hand, chastened. Like one of his characters would, incidentally. Katey Kontent, his protagonist, turned out to be my favorite female protagonist I’ve ever read. And though Towles has certainly done his research about Life and Times in that era, the era and its (marvelous, Gatsby-esque) trappings are secondary to the story, which is really about… hmm. Relationships. Judging. Pride. Prejudice. Learning about who we are, sometimes through process of elimination. Consequences.

The dialogue throughout is brilliant. Snappy, smart, wry -- like you’d expect a cool customer in 1930s Manhattan to talk, but it’s amazingly ingenuous, uncontrived. The characters are effortlessly funny, emotive but affectless, just plain honest. Katey is one of the best-rendered, complex characters in contemporary literature. All of the characters were well written, really, and I found myself changing my mind about most of them as the novel progressed, which is a really amazing feat for a writer: to keep the reader surprised in a genuine way.

Friends, I stand before you humbled, and I’m telling you: Read it. You won’t be sorry.

I feel like I should comment on the format of the book. I have a Barnes & Noble Nook (which I love -- it’s the newer, touch-screen e-ink Nook, not the Nook Color, which is really more like a pseudo iPad), so I had to download the book in Adobe Digital Editions, a program that I sort of see the point of but I don’t find it to be very intuitive for some reason. (Stupidity on my part, maybe?) Anyway, because of the type of e-pub it was, I couldn’t highlight or make notes in the Nook. I could bookmark pages, which was nice, but I found it inconvenient to be unable to interact with the text as I can with other e-book formats, and of course with cloth-and-paper books. And the formatting of the e-pub itself was weird in places when I enlarged the font, which was necessary because the full-page view was basically unreadably small. My question is when will there be an industry standard for e-pubs? A CSS-type of across the board standard that translates on all e-readers? Giddyup, publishing industry.

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