Rules of Civility Made Me Want to be Better Read

BlogHer Review

Like the best kind of introductory level class in college, Rules of Civility made me want to run out and visit a few art museums, read some history books, and pursue the great classics of the English language.

I had never heard of Walker Evans, a photographer who took portraits on the New York Subway during the Great Depression with a hidden camera. After the prologue, where the main character attends an exhibit where his photographs are being displayed for the first time, I read up on him a bit online, before requesting a collection of those portraits from the library.

I loved the quotes from Walden, remembering the times I visited Walden Pond while I lived in Boston, and seeing Thoreau’s grave in Concord at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

 The references to one of my favorite authors, Charles Dickens, made me anxious to reread The Tale of Two Cities (frankly, not as eager to reread Great Expectations which still gives me flashbacks to high school English).

There was such richness and depth to this book – so many interesting bits of history and art and literatures tucked into the story line -- that it made me want to be smarter, better read, more informed.

And this book didn’t rely solely on the brilliance of others. I marked line after line of amusing or clever or thoughtful prose.

And yet, when I put aside these wonderful gems, the storyline itself was a little flat for me. I felt as if it was trying so hard to be profound and deep, and yet, I couldn’t quite buy it. 

I did not connect with any of the characters, either negatively or positively -- I felt quite indifferent to most of them. I could hardly keep track of some of the more minor characters; there were so many of them and they seemed only to pop up as necessary to propel the story along.

It’s unusual for me to read a book that has so much in it that appeals to me and yet, when I close the book, I didn’t actually love it.

I keep asking myself if, after all this, I'd read something else by Amor Towles. I think I would. The writing and the richness of the story give me hope that another book might have the kind of storyline I'd find fulfilling.