- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Algonquin Books (June 26 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1616201312
- ISBN-13: 978-1616201319
- Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 399 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #615,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker Hardcover – Jun 26 2012
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The Atlantic Wire's “Best Revisitation of a Cultural Icon” in their list of the best books for 2012.
"Are you a New Yorker magazine groupie? Do you wait every week just to laugh at the cartoons and read Talk of the Town? If so, we have a book for you . . . The magazine's eccentricity was not lost on Groth. Lucky for us." ―USA Today
"An evocative memoir."―People
"[Groth's] collected the sort of gossipy anecdotes that would have you hanging on her every word at a literary cocktail party." ―Entertainment Weekly
“This is not a juicy tell-all – Groth remained an outsider as much as she was an insider at the magazine throughout her tenure, and legendary editor William Shawn stays a shadowy figure on the floor above throughout the book. Instead, she paints a picture of a naive Midwesterner with a mane of thick blond hair coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, experiencing the era's turbulent politics and sexual revolution, all from behind the receptionist desk.”―The Associated Press
“A literate, revelatory examination of self.”―The Boston Globe
“Groth can be charmingly offhanded: anecdotal, gently gossipy . . . The Berryman chapter, one of the first in the book, is also among the finest . . . ‘As a poet-teacher,’ she recalls, ‘he so invested his ego in his work that he was ego-free, a fleshless, selfless lover of enlightenment, pure spirit.’ That's a terrific description, evoking not just his classroom style but also the humor and erudition of his poems.”―Los Angeles Times
"[Groth] is witty, honest, and self-deprecating, without whining, and quite a good role model."―Booklist
"Revelatory . . . deeply reflective . . . Groth chronicles the many dazzling personalities whose lives touched, and moved, hers."―Publishers Weekly
"An honest and engaging memoir for fans of the magazine and histories of Mad Men-era New York."―Library Journal
"A nostalgic, wistful look at life inside one of America's most storied magazines, and the personal and professional limbo of the woman who answered the phone . . . This bookish girl from flyover country who became a Mad Men-era hottie, and who found she had to leave this cozy nest in order to save herself, is very much an interesting character in her own right. For readers who can't get enough New Yorker lore, an amiable view from the inside."―Kirkus Reviews
"One of the most buzzed-about books of the summer . . . The Receptionist is a don't-miss memoir of an era, a literary magazine and a fascinating woman."―SheKnows.com
"As for the book I'm looking forward to most? That would probably be Janet Groth's memoir, The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker. The title pretty much says it all, but Groth encountered some pretty fascinating people during her tenure at the mag, including E.B. White, Charles Addams and Joseph Mitchell. Juicy!"―Pop Candy
"Much of the story is envy-inducing..by the end of the book, [Groth] finds her own delightful voice, which is the book's real pleasure."―Oprah.com
“Groth’s memoir makes readers feel like she had ‘the best seat in the house’ as she talks about her role as a greeter to such literary luminaries as J.D. Salinger, Calvin Trillin and E.B. White. If you love The New Yorker―or want to look behind the pages―you will enjoy this book.” ―Bookreporter.com
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Our Minnesota girl is young and unsophisticated, but blond and very pretty. As a lowly receptionist, she studies the incoming traffic, gets to know the important writers who decorate the pages of the magazine, and has numerous liaisons with worldly males on and off the staff of the New Yorker. She revels in her new-found freedom to explore sex, art, music, and fine dining with men who enjoy her body, but also engage her in the art of intelligent and witty conversation. It opens up her world and invites her to take a huge bite out of the Big Apple for herself. Living and working in New York develops her sense of style, her growing maturity as an artist-in-training, and her desire to connect with the top echelons in her field. She has time to read modern classics as she sits idling behind the receptionist's desk, and this leads to completing a PhD in 20th century British and American literature at NYU, all while working at the magazine.
Her life as a female in the 1960's and '70's is what this book is all about. It leaves you hanging because you know she lacks the basic empowerment tools to advance in her chosen field. Her life at the New Yorker depends on being noticed by a succession of men (and a few females) powerful enough to grant playdate access to the male-dominated world around her. Her heart doesn't offer resistance, because Feminism hasn't happened yet, and she willingly engages in behaviors that seem naïve and passive, but were common and adaptive for most women of her day.
If you are a woman of a certain age who has lived through those times yourself, this book will really take you back. It is still an interesting story, even if you don't go back that far. I am sure most men (and post-feminist women too) will be utterly revolted by her neediness and passivity and her dependence on sex to gain advantages. However, developing oneself as a writer often takes a lot of incubator time while you observe and reflect on the world around you. That she does amply in her juicy memoir of the times she spent making her way among the best of the best at the New Yorker. Writing the great book, however, is still forthcoming.
As a receptionist, Groth was underemployed, but so were the majority of educated women at that time. Why did she remain a receptionist when the women's movement was in full swing and other intelligent women were moving into more exciting (and better paid) jobs? She blames the "dumb blonde" syndrome. She was young, blonde, and attractive and therefore not to be taken seriously. A more rational explanation is that her lack of confidence stemmed from her emotionally precarious childhood with an alcoholic father. Her self-destructive behavior (no other term for it, really) indicates that she had some deep-seated issues.
Or maybe she was basically satisfied with a job that allowed her to live in New York, gave her some perks (lengthy vacations, exposure to famous people,etc) and still left her time for her strenuous social life. I doubt if she received that much encouragement from her writer friends to break out of the mold. Brendan Gill pointed out that there was a huge gap between the progressive philosophies of NEW YORKER writers and their behavior. Some may have theoretically believed in women's rights, but all expected their wives to have supper on the table and the kids in bed when the breadwinner returned from a day of slaving over a (hopefully) hot typewriter. They certainly would have assumed that a lovely, personable young woman would marry and THAT would be her main career. It's interesting to note that the powerful Katherine White (a major force during the early years of the magazine) reluctantly followed her husband E.B. White when he decided to leave NYC even though it meant giving up her editorship.
To me Groth's story is valuable because it reflects what many of us experienced coming of age in the 1950's and 1960's. She was a late-bloomer, but she landed on her feet, had a happy marriage and a distinguished career in academics. By telling her story, she fills in the blanks for young women and helps them understand the social forces that determined the paths of women in the not-too-distant past. Plus, it's a good read!