Monday, November 2, 2015

rules of civility

On an October weekend in Beacon, after the most picturesque train ride in recent history, in between leaf peeping and microbrews, we stumbled into a little used bookshop on the main drag. Once the older woman sitting at the little fold-up table told me all the stores's profits went to the upkeep of the library next door, I was sold.  So were two gently used paperbacks.

Much to my surprise, this novel I picked up on a whim and for the greater good of the population of Beacon, NY was an incredibly enjoyable read.  Love, jealousy, parties, regret, success, and crosswords all set against the backdrop of New York in the Thirties.  I kept a pencil tucked behind my ear every time I pulled the book from my bag.  Herein, some of my favorite lines.


"Anyone who has ridden the subway twice a day to earn their bread knows how it goes: When you board, you exhibit the same persona you use with your colleagues and acquaintances.  You've carried it through the turnstile and past the sliding doors, so that your fellow passengers can tell who you are -- cocky or cautious, amorous or indifferent, loaded or on the dole.  But you find yourself a seat and the train gets under way; it comes to one station and then another; people get off and others get on.  And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away.  The superego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into an ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades.
It happens to all of us.  It's just a question of how many stops it takes.  Two for some.  Three for others.  Sixty-eighth Street.  Fifty-ninth.  Fifty-first.  Grand Central.  What a relief it was, those few minutes with our guard let down and our gaze inexact, finding the one true solace that human isolation allows."


"Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane -- in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath -- she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger."


"... I had the house salad -- a terrific concoction of iceberg greens, cold blue cheese and warm red bacon.  If I were a country, I would have made it my flag."


"... each city has its own romantic season.  Once a year, the city's architectural, cultural, and horticultural variables come into alignment with the solar course in such a way that men and women passing each other on the thoroughfares feel an unusual sense of romantic promise.  Like Christmastime in Vienna, or April in Paris.
That's the way we New Yorkers feel about fall.  Come September, despite the waning hours, despite the leaves succumbing to the weight of gray autumnal rains, there is a certain relief to having the long days of summer behind us; and there's a paradoxical sense of rejuvenation in the air.
... that somehow, despite the coming of winter, autumn in New York promises an effervescent romance which makes one look to the Manhattan skyline with fresh eyes and feel: It's good to live it again."


"What a transcendent diversion a crossword can be.... no matter how vestigial these words are in the body of common English, watching them fit so neatly into the puzzle's machinery, one feels as the archaeologist must feel when assembling a skeleton -- the end of the thighbone fitting so precisely into the socket of the hip bone that it simply has to confirm the existence of an orderly universe, if not divine intention."


"-- How does that happen?  How do you stop telling people where you're from?
  -- By inches."

From Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

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