Sunday, October 18, 2020

Rules of Civility - a book experience

Last Saturday, I woke up with day two of a nasty migraine. The day before I’d worked through it, but barely sitting up in bed. I felt nauseous most of the day. It was awful. I took the prescription again on Saturday and knew that my job was to be still and wait out the storm in my head.

I picked up my latest library pick, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and quickly was transported to New Year’s Eve, New York, 1937. I’ve spent the week trying to figure out how to write about this book, and this morning it came to me: I am not a book reviewer. What I am interested in telling you is my experience of the books I read. My blog, my rules, yes?

I have a funny habit for a writer who wants readers to read not one, but all of the books she one day publishes. Sometimes when I love the first book I read of an author’s, I’m nervous to read another. Such was the case with choosing Rules of Civility. Last December, I read A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles’ second book. Ten months later, I’m still thinking about it, missing the characters and the scenes he so adeptly created.

In my effort to live lightly, my bookshelves are sparse. They do not adequately exhibit the role books play in my life. I am a local library devotee, and I’m determined to get most of my books from there. Generally I can LOVE a book and not feel the need to OWN it. A Gentleman in Moscow is in a different category. I feel the need to have it on my shelf, to pick up on a whim and read snippets whenever I feel like it. I haven’t bought it yet, but I know I will one of these days.

All of this rambling to say, choosing to open Rules of Civility felt risky. I consider his second book a masterpiece. Was it possible that he could write two?

I devoured Rules of Civility in two days. I am drawn to the healing power of fiction, and this book did the trick. There were twists and turns, well-drawn characters, great dialogue, and the language—Amor Towles enveloped me in his command of English. I opened my journal and copied down phrases and passages because they were so good, so descriptive. Reading his work is a master class.

I had moments where I thought, my novel reads like a See Dick run book for children. In my head my prose sounds like Amor’s, but I can’t execute like he does. Yet. But mostly, his writing inspires me to keep chipping away. My novel isn’t supposed to sound like his. It’s supposed to sound like mine. It does and it will. Here are a few more words to describe his work: exquisite, elegant, textured, effortless. Those are attributes I am working my way toward in my own prose.

The other reason I’m taken with this writer is because the book jacket says he has a day job. He does something completely different during his working hours. Investments or some such. His work and writing dispel the fantasy that you have to have a lot of time to devote to writing. That may be the biggest takeaway from pandemic life: time is not the issue. I have plenty of it, and I still don’t get things done until I commit to doing them. Just like in 2015. I devoted my early mornings to writing, and I amassed more than 80,000 words.

This is what I find so fascinating about books. These are all the thoughts I had while reading a book about the upper echelons of New York society in the 1930s, friendship, and how accidents change our lives in countless, unforeseen ways. These thoughts have nothing to do with the story, and yet the story was the scaffolding on which I climbed around reorienting myself with my goals and aspirations. And if you decided to pick up this book, (which I highly recommend you do) who knows what its elements would draw out for you?

If you check out Rules of Civility, let me know what you think.


  1. I look forward to one day reading your book. It’ll be a masterpiece written from the Julie’ Margarite’ perspective. Exactly as it should be

  2. Thank you for introducing me to a new author! I will definitely check these 2 titles out! I also eagerly await your first book, Julie, and witnessing your unique style!