BOOK TO BUY: Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles

Love glamorous, historical dramas? Longing for something similar to The Great Gatsby  and Breakfast at Tiffany’s which mingles fab frockage with jazz, cocktails, art, photography, bars, grand homes, and high society in New York? Then I think you’ll also love Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles.

Rules of Civility - A novel - by Amor Towles

Mr Luscious gave me a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday so I went looking for things to read which had a historical bent. So imagine my delight when I came across the description of a book which combined my love of 1910s-1930s style, with one of my favourite cities, New York.

A black-and-white 1938 New York subway photograph by Walker Evans, who is referenced in "Rules of Civility: A Novel" by Amor Towles

The book is called “Rules of Civility: A Novel” and the author is first-time full-length novelist Amor Towles, an investment banker who loves art (including Walker Evans), jazz and literature.

1930s New York - South Street looking toward Brooklyn Bridge by Berenice Abbott

It’s set in 1938 Manhattan, and covers the transformational year-in-the-life of our heroine, 20-something Kate who works in magazine publishing, her best friend Eve, and the enigmatic Wall Street banker, Tinker Grey. Yes, “Fifty Shades of Grey” fans, that’s right, here’s another rich, handsome and charming Mr Grey.

Vintage-inspired elegance in the Michael Kors Fall 2012 RTW collection

Like protagonists Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” and Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, we get to view New York society through the eyes of an outsider-who-becomes-an-insider, Katey Kontent, who rises from the secretarial pool to magazine editing.

Cream wedding booties with lace and satin ribbons - 1920s-1930s style

Read a review in the New York Times where the book resides on their bestseller list, and a review/interview from CNN.

1930s advertisement for Dunlop

Rules of Civility: The soundtrack

Jazz – my favourite form of music, equal to classical – features heavily throughout the book, so I was delighted to find that there is an accompanying playlist. Read the introduction from Amor Towles and check out the playlist here.

The Cotton Club in the 1930s, New York

Here’s one of the tracks, “Don’t Be That Way” by Benny Goodman:


Here’s the official synopsis for “Rules of Civility” from Amor Towle’s website:


Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle.

Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Art Deco - Old Hollywood glamour - mylusciouslife

If you early 20th century history, you might enjoy these photo galleries:

Recommended reading and viewing:

  • Washington Square by Henry James: book
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: book and movie
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: book and movie
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: book and movie
  • Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circlemovie
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: book and movie (note: the novella and film are very different from each other)
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: book

I’ve also heard that “A Time to Be Born” by Dawn Powell is similar to “Rules of Civility” with its pre-WW2 setting in New York society.

Billie's Bar on First Avenue at 56th in Manhattan


Have you read it? What did you think?

Who was your favourite character? For me, it was Wallace. A fascinating, touching portrayal.

Which other books/films do you suggest?

And who should be cast in the film version?

1930s-inspired men's fashion

More lusciousness here:

Cocktail garnishes pictures - luscious cocktails photos.jpg

Luscious cocktails: Cheers!

Luscious cocktails: Cheers!
Beautiful chandelier over staircase via mylusciouslife.jpg

Stylish home: Chandeliers

Stylish home: Chandeliers
December 1 1925 - vintage cover of Vogue.jpg

"Vogue" magazine covers: covers up to the 1950s

"Vogue" magazine covers: covers up to the 1950s
Vintage luggage - - Louis Vuitton Footlocker2 from 1930.jpg

Luscious travel: Ode to vintage luggage

Luscious travel: Ode to vintage luggage
Floral fancy - - Chanel perfume bottle.jpg

Floral fancy: Romantic flowers

Floral fancy: Romantic flowers
The Last Mrs. Astor - A New York Story by Frances Kiernan.jpg

Recommended reading: Epicureans, socialites, hosts, philanthropists, and entertainers

Recommended reading: Epicureans, socialites, hosts, philanthropists, and entertainers
luscious brandy alexander cocktail3.jpg

Luscious cocktails: Brandy Alexander

Luscious cocktails: Brandy Alexander
Natalia Vodianova by Mario Testino for Vogue3.jpg

Natalia Vodianova and Justin Portman by Mario Testino for Vogue US July 2007

Natalia Vodianova and Justin Portman by Mario Testino for Vogue US July 2007

And even more on our Historical glamour board on Pinterest.

Cheers, Natasha


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