Wednesday, September 12, 2018
What Are They Reading? Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Authors tend to be readers, so it is natural for them to create characters who like to read. It is always interesting to me to read what books the characters are reading in the books I read. Even if I can't say that ten times fast.
Usually, the characters' choice of books reflects the author's tastes or, I sometimes think, what the author was reading at the time. But sometimes the character's reading material is a clue to the character's personality, or is even a part of the story.
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Katey Kontent, the narrator and heroine of Towles's debut novel, spends a lot of her free time reading and discussing books. Her favorite is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which she reads over and over. Katie is the daughter of Russian immigrants, grew up in New York City, and uses her smarts and wit to build a career and find her own place in high society. It is understandable that she would be drawn to Pip's complicated story of personal growth.
When Katey's personal life becomes most confusing, she develops a taste for Agatha Christie. By 1938, when most of the novel takes place, Christie had published 30 books, and two came out in 1938. In one of the best scenes in Towles's book, Katey settles in for Christmas Eve 1938 alone, with a 10-pound ham from her boss, a bottle of bourbon, and the newly-released Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.
The title, Rules of Civility, comes from another book, George Washington's Rules of Civility (& Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation), a list of 110 maxims that Washington had written in his own handwriting as a school boy. Katey finds a well-thumbed copy of the George Washington book in protagonist Tinker Grey's apartment and later buy's a secondhand copy for herself. There is an appendix in the Towles book listing the 110 rules.
I loved Rules of Civility as much as I did Towles's second book, A Gentleman in Moscow. I can't wait to see what he writes next.