Rules of Civility

By Amor Towles; Published In 2011
Genres: Fiction, Historical, New York, Book Club
After meeting someone by chance and throwing off a few sparks, can there be any substance to the feeling that you've known each other your whole lives? After those first few hours of conversation, can you really be sure that your connection is so uncommon that it belongs outside the bounds of time and convention?

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 super-ego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades.

As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion....if the next thing you're going to say makes you feel better, then it's probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I've discovered in life. And you can have it, since it's been of no use to me.

As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion - whether they're triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment - if the next thing you're going to say makes you feel better, then it's probably the wrong thing to say. careful when choosing what you're proud of--because the world has every intention of using it against you.

Because when some incident sheds a favorable light on an old and absent friend, that's about as good a gift as chance intends to offer.

For better or worse, there are few things so disarming as one who laughs well at her own expense.

For however inhospitable the wind, from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise - that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving.

If only someone had told me about the confidence-boosting nature of guns, I’d have been shooting them all my life.

If we fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn't be so much fuss about love in the first place.

If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us...then there wouldn't be so much fuss about love in the first place.

If you could relive one year in your life, which one would it be? [...] The upcoming one.

I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss.

I'm willing to be under long as it isn't somebody's thumb.

In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.

—I probably shouldn’t tell you this, I said.
—Kay-Kay, those are my six favorite words in the English language.

I suppose we don't rely on comparison enough to tell us whom it is that we are talking to. We give people the liberty of fashioning themselves in the moment-a span of time that is so much more manageable, stageable, controllable than is a lifetime.

It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book.

I told him I'd always found the description a little too long on adjectives and a little too short on specifics.

I've come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine.

Old times, as my father used to say: If you're not careful, they'll gut you like a fish.

Really. Is there anything nice to be said about other people's vacations?

Right from the first, I could see a calmness in you - that sort of inner tranquility that they write about in books, but that almost no one seems to possess. I was wondering to myself: How does she do that? And I figured it could only come from having no regrets - from having made choices with .... such poise and purpose.

Slurring is the cursive of speech...

That's the problem with living in New York. You've got no New York to run away to.

The romantic interplay that we were having wasn't the real game--it was a modified version of the game. It was a version invented for two friends so that they can get some practice and pass the time divertingly while they eat in the station for their train to arrive

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 had probably put herself in unnecessary danger.

Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee. Only decades later would I realize that he had been giving me a piece of advice.

What was your favorite day of the year? The summer solstice. June twenty-first. The longest day of the year.

When a mother loses a daughter, she grieves over the future that her daughter will never have, but she can take solace in memories of close-knit days. But when your daughter runs away, it is the fond memories that have been laid to rest; and your daughter's future, alive and well, recedes from you like a wave drawing out to sea.