Our Choices Make Us Who We Are: A Lesson From Rules of Civility

BlogHer Review

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles, is not a book I would have picked up to read on my own. It looked to me like one of those books my teachers would have made me read in high school that I would have grudgingly crawled my way through. While the Preface and first couple of chapters seemed to back up my initial assessment, I was pleasantly surprised to be engrossed by the story of Kate, Eve and Tinker by Chapter 4 when the book zigged in a direction that I had not expected.

Set in the late 1930s New York City, Rules of Civility tells the story of Kate as she maneuvers her way through a time where strict patterns of class and etiquette are softening in a post-Great Depression society. Kate seems to be able slide seamlessly into any group of people -- musicians, artists, writers, lawyers, the down-and-out and the well-to-do alike -- and stands her ground as the person she is and who she would like to become. Ultimately the book has to do with choices -- from career, to friendship, to love -- and how each choice leads you further on down the road of life and defines who you become.

And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.

While the book was slow at the onset, each choice that faced Kate made me want keep reading to find out which direction she would go next. Rather refreshing to an avid reader, she would rarely go the way I expected.

Overall I did enjoy Rules of Civility, but of course there is almost always room for improvement. While the Preface that begins the story is essential to the book as a whole, I found its placement at the beginning confusing. Not only did I find that it slowed my desire to read the book as a whole, but its correlation to the first chapter of the book had me scratching my head. As I finished the book, I hadn’t remembered the content of it anyway and had to go back and reread it to find completion to the story. In all, I think it would have been better placed at the end of the book as part of the Epilogue.

As a minor irritation, I also found the author’s style of quoting his characters confusing as well. I’m not sure why he decided to put dashes in front of the characters spoken lines instead of the standard quotations, but at times I found it difficult to tell what lines were being spoken and which were just thought. Not only that, but I find the whole style a little pretentious, like the author felt he was above going by the standards of English in his writing. Whatever the reason, I didn’t like it.

Even though this book is outside my normal reading genre, I enjoyed the journey. The twists and turns in the lives of Kate and her friends made for a book that made me not only think about the choices I have made in my life and how they have led to the person I am today, but also how the choices I make today will shape me into the person I am tomorrow.

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