Seizing chance, and drinking gin gimlets

25 Jun

I was supposed to read  Amor Towles’ “The Rules of Civility” back in March. I’d agreed to read it at the same time as my friend Jordan-na as we were both vacationing at the same time – albeit separately. The idea was that we could discuss it when we came back. I downloaded it from the library onto my kobo, started reading it, wasn’t really into the first 20 pages and then decided not to risk bringing my kobo on vacation and read something else (which was awful). My digital download expired while I was away. Once we came back from vacation, Jordan-na was nice enough about my laziness, but urged me to read on. I am very thankful that she did.

Towles’ main character isn’t ambitious Katey, it’s New York City pre-World War Two. He was successful in making me nostalgic for a time I didn’t experience and a city much different than it is now. It made me remember how I reacted to the New York City skyline when I first saw it at 16 years old – and how that first trip to the city held so much promise, and actually managed to live up to its epic reputation (among other things, I scored a free cross city ride in a stretch limousine!). The book even managed to make me nostalgic for my twenties, which aren’t yet over. The scenes of nights out  in New York made me nostalgic for my favourite Toronto bar, where the characters in Rules of Civility would have gone, were this book set in Toronto… in 2012. The bar is now closed, because the site is becoming a condo! Quelle surprise! Goodnight, the bar in question, was much like a 1930s New York speakeasy : you’d only really know about it if a friend told you, they didn’t accept walk-in patrons, and the best part: they served gin gimlets.

As this is a Book&Booze pairing, the only type of book review we do (so far!) on YYZ Gourmand, I would say a gin gimlet would be what you would drink to put you in the mood for the first section of the book. The feeling of the second section would be well paired with a few too many gimlets. The third part would be well paired with the feeling you have when you wake up the next day: wiser, slower and less likely to go back to the speakeasy and make loads of new friends just because you can.

At the bar with friends is how this story begins. And how many remarkable stories in our lives begin with chance meetings in bars?! You might be surprised if you take a moment to consider that concept (or maybe not at all?). Now, consider the fact that most of your married friends don’t go to bars with the ambition to talk to strangers and see where it could bring them. They don’t do that because they are already there – or think they are. I think Amor Towles wrote this book for everyone who believes in the value chance – and taking advantages of those moments. Not destiny (because there is a distinct difference!), it’s about taking advantage of those new situations which fall into your lap – if you do or you don’t is entirely up too you. This idea that we are self-made by the hand of others as well as ourselves was revealed by the plot and also by references to the books that Katey reads or has in her apartment.

At first, I loved the many literary references which informed the themes and tone of the book, as well as the protagonist’s relationship to the written word. But after a while they seemed heavy handed: Walden, Dickens, Agatha Christie… even an 11th grade English class could figure out half of what you were hitting us over the the head with.

No matter my criticism, I did enjoy this book and loved the time I had with it. I loved in the way I like my friends, who, no matter their faults, are lovely, engaging and I want to spend as much time with them as I can.

PS. If you’ve already read it and miss Eve… guess what?! Towles wrote an e-book just about her and it comes out TODAY!

Note: If you’ve already read the book, then read this review from The New York Times. A book doesn`t feel over until I’ve read the NYT review.


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