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The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

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In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn’t expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohem In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn’t expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohemian Greenwich Village, and was seduced, two-timed, and proposed to by a few of the magazine’s eccentric luminaries. This memoir of a particular time and place is an enchanting tale of a woman in search of herself.


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In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn’t expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohem In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn’t expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohemian Greenwich Village, and was seduced, two-timed, and proposed to by a few of the magazine’s eccentric luminaries. This memoir of a particular time and place is an enchanting tale of a woman in search of herself.

30 review for The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

  1. 4 out of 5

    The Library Lady

    My older daughter wants to be some kind of writer. This is the second book I've read in recent times written by someone who teaches writing on a college level and it is making me want to tell her to avoid all such courses in college. This is a poorly organized mishmosh. Is it a personal story? Portraits of various writers for the New Yorker? An elegy to her beauty? Explications of the writings of various authors she knew? Personally, I am unimpressed by her foot long blond ponytail or the beauty o My older daughter wants to be some kind of writer. This is the second book I've read in recent times written by someone who teaches writing on a college level and it is making me want to tell her to avoid all such courses in college. This is a poorly organized mishmosh. Is it a personal story? Portraits of various writers for the New Yorker? An elegy to her beauty? Explications of the writings of various authors she knew? Personally, I am unimpressed by her foot long blond ponytail or the beauty of her breasts, none of which have anything to do with her brain capacity--and if she was so frustrated by her work as a receptionist perhaps she should have spent more time on her writing and less on her love life. Nor do I want to hear the details of where she made love or the look of her lovers bodies. Her explications of literature are of little interest and typical pompous pedagogical fluff. Her portraits of the people she met--the part of her story of interest to anyone like me who has been a lifetime reader of the New Yorker and the reason I got this book-- spend more time on their physical appearances and clothing than anything else. By the time she'd broken up with her umpety-umpth lover, I realized I did not want to spend one more minute of my life on her life, except in terms of this review. And my thanks to the editors of the New Yorker for keeping her at her reception desk and not letting her leash her tedious prose on the world before some publisher glommed onto this.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I couldn't even finish this book because it was so bad. The last time I flaked out on a book was maybe... fourth grade? I usually stick it out, even through bad books, but The Receptionist was beyond anything I could handle. Where to even begin?? Maybe the author's name dropping would have been less annoying 100 years ago when the people she encountered were relevant. And it is disgusting how self-confident the author is in her own good looks. Janet Groth really takes narcissism to a whole new le I couldn't even finish this book because it was so bad. The last time I flaked out on a book was maybe... fourth grade? I usually stick it out, even through bad books, but The Receptionist was beyond anything I could handle. Where to even begin?? Maybe the author's name dropping would have been less annoying 100 years ago when the people she encountered were relevant. And it is disgusting how self-confident the author is in her own good looks. Janet Groth really takes narcissism to a whole new level with this piece-of-crap, and does a very good job at making the reader hate her. I'm so disappointed that I can't even finish the review right now. Please ignore all the hype surrounding this book, it's really just not that good. And - whatever you do - don't make my mistake and get on a library waiting list for over a month for The Receptionist because you will just absolutely hate yourself.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Moira Russell

    Surprisingly terrible, for all the buzz it's gotten. This memoir starts off strong with moving, vivid and detailed portraits of Joe Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark (most of which were published earlier as separate pieces); then becomes a judgemental told-about chronicle of a whole year of dissipated promiscuity in the very early sixties; and, after the heroine Finds Herself (in what was clearly the ending of the autobiographical novel she writes she was never able to finish earlier) in Surprisingly terrible, for all the buzz it's gotten. This memoir starts off strong with moving, vivid and detailed portraits of Joe Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark (most of which were published earlier as separate pieces); then becomes a judgemental told-about chronicle of a whole year of dissipated promiscuity in the very early sixties; and, after the heroine Finds Herself (in what was clearly the ending of the autobiographical novel she writes she was never able to finish earlier) in Greece, the chronology of the book becomes completely muddled. Decades are jumped between paragraphs, then doubled back to, her whole second career as a graduate student, teacher and critical author is completely left out, and the conventional Happy Ending is a long-delayed marriage to a man whose self-satisfied pronouncements make him sound like an utter prick. Since she apparently doesn't remember much of what the writers and artists she saw daily for over two decades actually said, despite keeping a detailed diary, the book becomes little more than an exercise in name-dropping. There is some healthy rage right at the end of the book when she details repeatedly trying to break out of reception work only to be told she was "too pretty" or "was disqualified for the job (as first reader) by my overfamiliarity with the type of fiction they'd been publishing in the nineteen years I'd been there." She realizes "....or should have -- that mothering,nurturing, providing a discreet and loyal personification of continuity on the writer's floor, was exactly the position in which the editors wanted me or indeed felt they had any use for me. Did that make me a victim? Or a beneficiary?" But this scrap of analysis is too little, far too late.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Guidarini

    I could sum up this book in one quick blurb: Pretty blonde takes advantage of an informal meeting with literary giant E.B. White to beg for a position at The New Yorker. Being a kind man with a generous soul, he passes her along to the head secretary, who offers her a position as a receptionist, a job she held for twenty-one years without ever advancing at the magazine. She meets a few great writers (poet John Berryman, essayist Joseph Mitchell and novelist/playwright Muriel Spark) with whom she I could sum up this book in one quick blurb: Pretty blonde takes advantage of an informal meeting with literary giant E.B. White to beg for a position at The New Yorker. Being a kind man with a generous soul, he passes her along to the head secretary, who offers her a position as a receptionist, a job she held for twenty-one years without ever advancing at the magazine. She meets a few great writers (poet John Berryman, essayist Joseph Mitchell and novelist/playwright Muriel Spark) with whom she spends a lot of time hanging out in their off hours. Over the years she earned advanced degrees and now she's Professor Emeritus of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She never managed to write her "great book" but had a hell of a lot of fun at cocktail parties. And that's basically it, along with an awful lot of filler details I could hardly care less about: "I decided to wash my hair. Mr. Propopoulous was prevailed upon to put in motion a set of operations that eventually yielded hot water. When, hair washed, I expressed a wish to dry it and asked if he had a blow-dryer, Mr. Propopoulous pointed to the top of his house: "No such apparatus, but perhaps the sun?" Riveting. I was pulled in by the rave reviews, forgetting those are "I'll scratch your back" empty, hot air rote phrases roughly 90% of the time. I'd imagined the book would be about a woman who started as a secretary, working her way up the ladder at The New Yorker, a woman who defied the odds in a male-dominated literary world, breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling to become... Oh, I don't know, an editor or something? Anything? I wanted to read about the inner workings of the magazine, stories of a bustling literary powerhouse accompanied by off-beat, insider anecdotes only someone inside the circle would know. Unfortunately, it's not the book she wrote. I'd recommend this book to a specific niche group of readers if I could come up with one for whom it would be enlightening. Honestly, I don't know what niche group that would be. If the topic interests you, my advice is skim through it. Get it from the library, flip through for key words of interest, read the occasional paragraph, then return it. You'll thank me for saving you the money.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kim Fay

    Some books are just so delicious. Scattered, anecdotal and wonderfully insider-ish, this is one of them. Reading this book is like being at a cocktail party with author Janet Groth. Actually, a few cocktail parties, for at one she might have had only one glass of wine, so she name drops with discretion, while at another she may be a bit lit, so she has a TMI moment that she may or may not regret the next day. For those who want something with a bit more heft, read Brendan Gill's "Here at the New Some books are just so delicious. Scattered, anecdotal and wonderfully insider-ish, this is one of them. Reading this book is like being at a cocktail party with author Janet Groth. Actually, a few cocktail parties, for at one she might have had only one glass of wine, so she name drops with discretion, while at another she may be a bit lit, so she has a TMI moment that she may or may not regret the next day. For those who want something with a bit more heft, read Brendan Gill's "Here at the New Yorker." But for others (like me) who want to have some fun, read "The Receptionist." The interesting thing is that everything in this book isn't fun. There are many sad and illuminating moments. But what I like best about them is that Ms. Groth does not try to put them in context. She does not try to impose a distinct narrative by filling in all the blanks -- so common in memoirs these days, the need to explain EVERYTHING. She invites us back into another era, she confides in us, she reveals a few secrets (others' and her own). As for those who feel that this book does not give insight into the world of the "New Yorker," I disagree. I think everything about it, from what it says to how it says it, speaks to a specific time and place that's been lost to the past. (PS - LOVED the chapter on Muriel Spark) (PPS - This made me want to read Mary Cantwell's "Manhattan Memoir" again)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bibliovoracious

    This is a book about a blond chignon attached to an ambulant cloud, that eats many fancy meals and records conversations, until the book is almost over, when the cloud coalesces into a human person, who happens to wear a chignon. So many times I almost stopped. I found this completely tiresome: an endless list of her encounters with famous people who were probably very interesting but I have to take her word for it, because the encounter as described utterly fails to be interesting. It didn't hel This is a book about a blond chignon attached to an ambulant cloud, that eats many fancy meals and records conversations, until the book is almost over, when the cloud coalesces into a human person, who happens to wear a chignon. So many times I almost stopped. I found this completely tiresome: an endless list of her encounters with famous people who were probably very interesting but I have to take her word for it, because the encounter as described utterly fails to be interesting. It didn't help that most of those encounters (with old white guys, usually drunks) seemed to be happening (only) because she was young, hot, and blond (did she mention her chignon?), and there was a hint of sexual predation always lurking. It was that Scotch, cigarettes, grab and grope era. Worst of all, the narrator seems completely void of personality, startlingly so, until about the last two chapters, when she finally, FINALLY! pays some attention to the existence of her own needs and motivations, and it gets briefly interesting, as she's about to depart NY (and finish the book) for the rest of her life. That story may have held more interest, once she became a thinking, feeling being. But by that time I was just weary and the postscript of emerging character was too little too late.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Reading this book was like sitting next to Groth in a smoky bar while she told you stories of when she worked at "The New Yorker" for 21 years as a receptionist. So, one evening I joined her for a gin martini and just read. This isn't a tell-all book, oh no, Groth is very considerate to her former employer and its staff, but gives a little inkling here and there. She used to have Friday lunches with Joseph Mitchell, spent Christmas with Muriel Spark, babysat and housesat for Calvin Trillin. Thes Reading this book was like sitting next to Groth in a smoky bar while she told you stories of when she worked at "The New Yorker" for 21 years as a receptionist. So, one evening I joined her for a gin martini and just read. This isn't a tell-all book, oh no, Groth is very considerate to her former employer and its staff, but gives a little inkling here and there. She used to have Friday lunches with Joseph Mitchell, spent Christmas with Muriel Spark, babysat and housesat for Calvin Trillin. These were the tales I loved, getting to know the writers without the cloak of a book. Mitchell suffered from such writers block that the last decades of his life he wrote nothing. But this is also the story of Groth and her growing into womanhood in the city. It was a sort of awakening--professionally, sexually, and intellectually--from her Midwestern roots. She took one class a semester at NYU until she earned her PhD, but she didn't really expound on that. Upon leaving "The New Yorker," she went on to teach, but she glossed over that part of her life. (I read it on the back flap.) Groth's writing is impeccabl, and she learned from the best at the magazine. Her use of language is a throwback from most modern-day memoirs, and I loved it. I wish everyone would write like she does! I noticed when I started reading that this book received very low marks on Good Reads, so that was always in the back of my mind. Now, upon finishing it, I wonder why. I found it a pure delight.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is a tough one to rate. While I find the era and location, New York City through the late 50s to the early 80s, fascinating, the author doesn't succeed in bringing that time to life. Yes, she does describe her lunches and dinners with interesting characters in some of the most fashionable establishments of the day, but there is a missing element of immediacy, and her recollections seem musty and unappealing. Also,there was little sense of what it was like to work in the offices of the New Y This is a tough one to rate. While I find the era and location, New York City through the late 50s to the early 80s, fascinating, the author doesn't succeed in bringing that time to life. Yes, she does describe her lunches and dinners with interesting characters in some of the most fashionable establishments of the day, but there is a missing element of immediacy, and her recollections seem musty and unappealing. Also,there was little sense of what it was like to work in the offices of the New Yorker, in fact there was more information about that on the inside flap of the dust jacket than in the book itself. I don't mean to sound harsh, because I see this book as a very honest attempt, but there is something labored in her writing, as though she is writing "in the style of..." rather than as herself. She seems to be trying too hard to disprove the "dumb blonde" myth that she believes has plagued her throughout her life. There is a lot of "self discovery" in this book which I found interesting although, it was brutal reading about the sorry lot of lovers she endured (particularly the one legged doctor who told her she wouldn't get pregnant because he could tell when a woman is ovulating just by looking at her!) It's nice that she finally found someone worthy of her love, but even he sounds like a bit of a windbag. I applaud Ms.Groth for her impressive accomplishments, I just don't find her story as she writes it, very compelling.(fantastic cover though)

  9. 4 out of 5

    K2 -----

    I came to this with an expectation of more about what it was like to be involved at the New Yorker in the 1960s and beyond, and was somewhat disappointed. Groth has written more about herself and her young life than insider tales of the New Yorker and life in that era. Once I let that go I had a more enjoyable reading experience. She used lots of pseudonyms for people so the few juicy details were muted. Perhaps this tells more about what I was looking for in a summer read than what she was offe I came to this with an expectation of more about what it was like to be involved at the New Yorker in the 1960s and beyond, and was somewhat disappointed. Groth has written more about herself and her young life than insider tales of the New Yorker and life in that era. Once I let that go I had a more enjoyable reading experience. She used lots of pseudonyms for people so the few juicy details were muted. Perhaps this tells more about what I was looking for in a summer read than what she was offering. Froth is obviously a "man's woman" and was terribly impressed with her own looks. The book jacket shows an attractive older woman and you can tell from her writing that she put lots of stock in her sex appeal. She clearly wants the world to know she was a one hot babe in her day. I'd hoped for more literary insights, more about her decades at the New Yorker, and I got instead a memoir of a woman, from Iowa, who happened to have worked as a receptionist at the New Yorker. I finished it but it's frankly not a book I would recommend a friend read and will likely put in the Goodwill pile instead of the pass it along to a gal pal pile.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    When the blond author's live-in boyfriend left her for a brunette, she thought it was for superficial reasons--only after the fact did it occur to her that it might be because she lacked the depth necessary to be a compelling life partner. The same can be said of this book, which provides some amusing anecdotes of the New Yorker under William Shawn, but largely lacks any kind of insights as to why this publication needed to be eviscerated by Tom Wolfe or why she let her professional ambitions to When the blond author's live-in boyfriend left her for a brunette, she thought it was for superficial reasons--only after the fact did it occur to her that it might be because she lacked the depth necessary to be a compelling life partner. The same can be said of this book, which provides some amusing anecdotes of the New Yorker under William Shawn, but largely lacks any kind of insights as to why this publication needed to be eviscerated by Tom Wolfe or why she let her professional ambitions to be a writer be satiated by literary chats at cafes. When most memoirs verge on bringing us too close to our subject matter, Groth still keeps us largely at a distance, trying to protect the integrity of her revery for the magazine. That said, it was a quick read, and the chapters published in other publications previously ("Homage to Mr. Berryman" and "On Writing, Not Writing, and Lunching with Joe") are small gems worth reading. Overall, it seems like there are many other books from the writers of the New Yorker about the magazine that are more worthwhile than the view from this receptionist's desk.

  11. 5 out of 5

    JenniferD

    wow -- was this disappointing. the quality of writing is not good at all and groth does nothing to endure herself to readers. is this her job? i don't know. probably not. but when you want people to buy and read your story ... a nonfiction memoir ... there's got to be something going on in there to make it worthwhile for readers. i found groth's tone to be very, to use her own word, snooty. which wouldn't be so bad (i mean, she anchored her book around the new yorker, i was prepared to give leew wow -- was this disappointing. the quality of writing is not good at all and groth does nothing to endure herself to readers. is this her job? i don't know. probably not. but when you want people to buy and read your story ... a nonfiction memoir ... there's got to be something going on in there to make it worthwhile for readers. i found groth's tone to be very, to use her own word, snooty. which wouldn't be so bad (i mean, she anchored her book around the new yorker, i was prepared to give leeway. heh!) if she wasn't constantly pointing out how not being snooty was a good thing when being around the lofty company she kept. she expressed a disdain for snootiness and something she called 'side'. groth also expresses huge dismay for gossip, and she talks about a trauma inflicted upon her as a child because of hurtful gossip she overheard, and which was something she held onto well into her mid-life. yet here she is, gossiping rather freely about other people's lives. i mean, perhaps much of the dirt she dishes isn't news for some of the people she speaks of, but i don't know that it's groth's place to be furthering such information? as well, groth voices a rather contradictory position on abortion, rendering a judgement against women who have a abortions and lumping them all into one category. (groth, for some reason, implies that all women who have abortions think nothing of it, give no thought to what they are doing. prior to this statement, she tells us about her own abortion. she was dating a doctor. he provided her with oral medication which induced haemorrhaging and her pregnancy was terminated. she did not dwell on this, or appear to give any of her own prolonged thought to choosing to abort her pregnancy. if she did, she certainly did not include that in her memoir. yet she included many other very personal, revealing things - so why not talk about her decision to have an abortion? anyway, it was a very glaring and hypocritical moment in her story for me (compounded by her hypocrisy on gossip). to be fair, and clear, groth does appear to be quite politically liberal, and she voices her belief in a women's right to choose. but then qualifies that right, brushing over her own decision to have an abortion. it was a weird, weird moment in the book. going into the read, i had hoped for much more information (not gossip) about the new yorker - but this book is very slim in this department. essentially, this book is a lot of name-dropping, and a woman's exploration of her past. which would be fine... if there was not, literally, a 'who am i?' section, and if groth's 'education as the new yorker' was actually interesting. so many moments in the story had potential, but they went underdeveloped. groth does get very personal at some moments, but it never felt authentic to me, and it all felt fairly shallow and, at moments, mean-spirited. i feel like a horrible human being for responding this way to her and to this book, but - wow - did this story go off the rails.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    Although I don't read The New Yorker, I'm aware of its reputation, the careers launched, the personalities housed there, (and I've certainly read pieces that debuted there, anthologized later); so when offered a review copy of Groth's memoir, I pounced. This was a book so good I've lost the ability to arrange letters into words. So I apologize now for the jumpy, incoherent gush of a review that follows. From the first pages, I was sold on Groth. Mr. [E.B.] White took a moment to absorb this informa Although I don't read The New Yorker, I'm aware of its reputation, the careers launched, the personalities housed there, (and I've certainly read pieces that debuted there, anthologized later); so when offered a review copy of Groth's memoir, I pounced. This was a book so good I've lost the ability to arrange letters into words. So I apologize now for the jumpy, incoherent gush of a review that follows. From the first pages, I was sold on Groth. Mr. [E.B.] White took a moment to absorb this information. When he could bring himself to speak again, he asked, "Can you type?" "Not at a professional level," I said. He coughed and looked at the resume that Arthur Zegart had given him and that had led to my being there in his office. "What about this short story prize you won?...Was that story typed?" I told him that yes, of course it had been, but that I deliberately maintained a slow, self-devised system that involved looking at the keyboard. "I was afraid, you see, that if I became a skilled typist, I would wind up in an office typing pool." (p2) I want Groth to be my bestie -- who wouldn't?! Candidly she shares how she got her job, the professors who inspired her to take up writing, the writers she worked with, the love affairs, her aspirations as a writer and a scholar, and the way The New Yorker changed throughout her time there. This memoir is a series of vignettes from 1957 to 1978. Technically there as just a receptionist, Groth's life was shaped and impacted by the personalities she assisted, supported, befriended, romanced, entertained, liked, disliked, loved, and lost: Muriel Spark, John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, Renata Adler, and hosts of others. Groth came-of-age at an era that, frankly, frightens me -- the late '50s and '60s -- in big, bad New York City, working for a literary magazine that was renown then for the personalities and expense lines. When women were having to find, invent, reinvent, discover, and hide themselves, Groth navigated that time with not unsurprising bumps and fits, and she shares her experiences without shame. (Happily!) I found her to be breathtakingly honest in her account of her time at The New Yorker. Her tone sounds a little bemused, a little pained, a little wry -- not aloof, but aware -- and I was often holding my breath in amazement. Her writing is so honest and unapologetic, and yet, she shares enough warmth and vulnerability that I felt deeply sympathetic toward her. Even if you're not familiar with the writers from The New Yorker, if you enjoy memoirs and coming-of-age stories, get this one. Like a surprisingly dangerous aunt, Groth's stories are titillating, gasp-inducing, fascinating, depressing, and inspiring.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Girl

    A history of one woman's journey to self-discovery, set against the backdrop of social changes of 1950s-1970s in the US. I wish there was more about The New Yorker itself, but it's still a very interesting read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christine Rebbert

    This book was a real disappointment. Although I haven't been a recent reader of the New Yorker, I am a former subscriber and had always enjoyed it, which is why I thought I would enjoy the book. However, the period of time in which Groth was a receptionist there was from the early 1950's to early 1970's, way before I started to read the magazine, and I was unfamiliar with most of the people she talked about. There was a one-sentence reference to Woody Allen; that was about the most familiar pers This book was a real disappointment. Although I haven't been a recent reader of the New Yorker, I am a former subscriber and had always enjoyed it, which is why I thought I would enjoy the book. However, the period of time in which Groth was a receptionist there was from the early 1950's to early 1970's, way before I started to read the magazine, and I was unfamiliar with most of the people she talked about. There was a one-sentence reference to Woody Allen; that was about the most familiar person to me! In addition, a fair amount of the book doesn't even have anything to do with being a receptionist at the New Yorker but is more about her travels on summer vacations (8 weeks! 4 of them paid! imagine that!), her childhood (in the 1940's -- and yet doesn't even make mention of WWII), and her search for self which, having occurred in the '50's and '60's, seemed somehow quaint. Overall, I would not recommend this book -- someone younger than me (and I'm getting up there!) probably would be even less able to relate!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I got partway into this and finally decide to put it aside as it really wasn't what I'd hoped. It's a memoir about working as a receptionist at the New Yorker, which I thought would be awesomely interesting. Instead it mostly felt just like lots of name dropping of authors and places around NYC. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd read the New Yorker during that time period, or if I new NYC better, but without that deep background knowledge I just didn't find this compelling.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nette

    This memoir contains a few interesting stories about "New Yorker" luminaries, but mostly it was a boring account of how all the men in the building were entranced by her stunning beauty. ("I was five feet seven, had a 36-26-36 figure, and wore my hair in a twelve-inch blond ponytail. What more did a man need to know?") Her "All that and a bag of Alqonquin Round Table bread sticks" attitude gets old really fast.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Abby Pottorff

    I’ve tried three times to read this book. I. Just. Can’t.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    When I found the beginning a slow start and the pages turning sluggishly, I took a new approach--I began with the last of the 18 vignettes in this memoir, read backwards, and it worked a wonder. The book, that way, became a page-turner. The whole middle-nugget chapters especially sparkled, for I liked living for a while behind the scenes of a magazine I had read faithfully for so many years. It is a double memoir: first, that of a rural Iowa girl (via the U of Minnesota), rather a bluestocking w When I found the beginning a slow start and the pages turning sluggishly, I took a new approach--I began with the last of the 18 vignettes in this memoir, read backwards, and it worked a wonder. The book, that way, became a page-turner. The whole middle-nugget chapters especially sparkled, for I liked living for a while behind the scenes of a magazine I had read faithfully for so many years. It is a double memoir: first, that of a rural Iowa girl (via the U of Minnesota), rather a bluestocking with lots of neuroses, hungrily gulping the high life of New York intellectual and artsy society-–starting as a receptionist during the 1960s heyday of the top literary and journalistic publication going in America. If that sounds complicated, well, it was! It was refreshing to see the New Yorker crowd from the bottom up, from the perspective of a very young, exuberant receptionist. The lifestyle-saga shares the stage with the second aspect of the memoir, the new-adult story of a 19-year old English major growing up in a dream job at the New Yorker, and during 21 years personally knowing all the "names" in town from Show Biz to the new Ms. Names are dropped, but it never feels like name-dropping. Her adventures with lovers and her moving through all the best creative types of NYC in the 60s and 70s belie her self-confessed neurotic insecurity, a "confusion and lack of self-understanding" that led to a suicide attempt and a stay at Bellevue. Groth was certainly lucky to be in analysis nearly the whole time. It seemed that, with help, her hunger for life and experience worked through the neurosis and gave her rich years of becoming the grown-up she wanted to be. Groth’s characters (real people) come alive in full color, sharply drawn and the story stays fresh even though it is many years old. Janet Groth lived her New York years exuberantly, and a bit off the beaten path, experiencing racial issues of the times with a black roommate, traveling to Greece by boat, feeling “the shame of the writer who doesn’t write,” painful rejection of her pieces by the magazine she respected and to which she yearned to be a contributor. She takes us to many of the parties, the get-togethers, too, and into a few bedrooms. I, for one, am delighted she has shared these years with us!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Archer

    I enjoyed reading the story of Janet Groth, a midwestern girl, who spent much of her working life as a receptionist at The New Yorker. I enjoyed the style of her writing and found it witty and entertaining. I liked the short chapters of her specific relationships and experiences. Contrary to many others' opinions, I even liked some of the name-dropping and didn't find it to be braggadocio on Ms. Groth's part. New York is a fascinating town and I enjoyed the snippets of it seen through the eyes o I enjoyed reading the story of Janet Groth, a midwestern girl, who spent much of her working life as a receptionist at The New Yorker. I enjoyed the style of her writing and found it witty and entertaining. I liked the short chapters of her specific relationships and experiences. Contrary to many others' opinions, I even liked some of the name-dropping and didn't find it to be braggadocio on Ms. Groth's part. New York is a fascinating town and I enjoyed the snippets of it seen through the eyes of a young woman coming to self-actualization in the 60's and 70's. In the end, she does seem to appreciate her time at the New Yorker, even if she has only been the receptionist, because she has used the experience to grow into a woman who is happy with herself and her life. This book may have charmed me most because I am a midwesterner and could relate to the feelings of a young woman in such a fabulous place. At any rate, I am very glad that I chose to read The Receptionist and will not be hesitant to recommend it to other readers, especially those who are older.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Noelle

    I am trying to adopt more of the "it's okay to not finish a book you don't like" attitude (I often feel somewhat guilty and that I'm not giving a fair judgement if I don't read the whole thing). I practiced it with this book. I got a little over 100 pages in an I just really didn't care anymore. I felt like the majority of it was the author name dropping and Listing a bunch of bars/restaurants that she frequented with these people (most of which have not been open for decades). Maybe if I was an I am trying to adopt more of the "it's okay to not finish a book you don't like" attitude (I often feel somewhat guilty and that I'm not giving a fair judgement if I don't read the whole thing). I practiced it with this book. I got a little over 100 pages in an I just really didn't care anymore. I felt like the majority of it was the author name dropping and Listing a bunch of bars/restaurants that she frequented with these people (most of which have not been open for decades). Maybe if I was an avid fan of The New Yorker, I might have enjoyed it more...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    There are many "inside baseball" books on The New Yorker. This is not the one to read. The book is more about a tiresome parade of boyfriends than the workings of TNY. Flat, often cringe-worthy writing with little insight. Here's a sample of its not-a-drop of-irony prose: "Fritz loved me first. I was 5'7", had a 36-26-36 figure and wore my hair in a 12" blond ponytail. What more did a man need to know?" Disappointing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    For someone who is supposed to be an academic and highly intelligent, this author is a total disappointment as a writer. I got the book to read about the great literary luminaries of mid century America who wrote for the New Yorker. Never have I read a more shallow laundry list of people and events. This author should have had a ghost writer! I'm sure there were wonderful tales to be told of life at the New Yorker, but this book isn't it. Don't waste your time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    2.5 stars Ultimately, the book is about an ordinary woman's life in extra-ordinary consequences while suffering from daddy issues. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the inner-workings of the New Yorker at that time, but I grew tired of all the name dropping.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paula Gallagher

    Wow, was this boring. All the interesting name dropping I had already read in the advance notices.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa McAuliffe

    So this is how I would describe this book: imagine me writing down what I did every day at my job for 20 years. Who I talked to, had lunch with, what the office gossip was. That's it. Reading about people you've never heard of doing completely normal - yet, boring - things. Nope. Wow I am on a ROLL lately.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I got impatient with this book rather quickly and would have given it two stars, even though the first few chapters (about John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, and Muriel Spark) were interesting and well-written. It redeemed itself and became three stars near the end when Ms. Groth (Dr. Groth now, actually) finally dived into describing her dysfunctional Iowa family and her uprooted childhood due to the business misadventures of her alcoholic dad. It was probably her choice to write in the voice of t I got impatient with this book rather quickly and would have given it two stars, even though the first few chapters (about John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, and Muriel Spark) were interesting and well-written. It redeemed itself and became three stars near the end when Ms. Groth (Dr. Groth now, actually) finally dived into describing her dysfunctional Iowa family and her uprooted childhood due to the business misadventures of her alcoholic dad. It was probably her choice to write in the voice of the small-town girl in search of a self that she was when she moved to New York and joined the New Yorker staff as a receptionist and surrogate mother/caretaker for its writers. But this voice lacks dimension, and despite the facts that begin to emerge about her life, once she gets past the name-dropping and describing of endless restaurants/bars/drinks/famous people/famous books, one wonders who is talking. She finally comes to life in her description of her affair with Fritz, her solitary trip to Greece, and her description of her true love, a man 24 years older who does sound like a winner. So what kept me reading? Teasers…like references to her eventually attending graduate school as she worked for peanuts…and some degree of identification, since I grew up in the fifties too and remember the general astonishment when women displayed any initiative or ambition to transcend the few careers open to us (teaching, nursing, secretarial work, motherhood, sales, waitressing, prostitution). I graduated from college in 1966, she in 1957. I was an English major too, but my creative writing never received any praise in my small Virginia school. Sometimes I have wondered what would have happened to me had I been bold enough to just go to New York and find a job with a publishing company. Now, I think I’m glad I chose to marry (even though it was the wrong marriage, it provided me with nearly the same living standard that Janet had, and the same opportunity for graduate school – although I missed those New Yorker-funded trips to Europe. My friends were not as illustrious but they were real friends, for the most part, and I benefited from being immersed in real life, as opposed to endless conversations with writers about books. She could have used a bit of variety…). On one hand, she deserves tremendous credit for having clawed her way out of promiscuity and underlying depression into a productive career (after 20-some years of surrogate-mother-ing) as a university teacher and academic writer. On the other hand, I think, gee, why on earth did she listen to her mother and avoid practical things like playing games and learning to type and having friends? We both read obsessively…but I did do more than that, beginning with piano playing which took me out of my own brain and gave me the rudiments of discipline, and going on to learning to swim, play softball, basketball, bridge…valuable experiences which, late in life, she realized are important to be “well-rounded.” I guess I was lucky that somebody talked about “being well-rounded”…as opposed to encouraging me to desire a “smart-girl” type of career, which in the state of Virginia would have been a mere pipedream. I eventually got there, as did she, but I think I’m glad I avoided Manhattan in 1966. This ended as a thought-provoking read…but if you do not identify, be warned, you may be bored. Introverted bookworms turned butterflies, give it a try.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Ever wonder what the good old days were like, when one could just show up in NYC and land a receptionist gig at a prestigious magazine? One that gave you eight weeks off in the summer, four of them PAID? Sure, she did have the strength of an introduction. That helps. But the woman didn't even attend an Ivy League college! She was a midwestern Lutheran, daughter of grocers! See, that stuff never happens today. Sigh. Groth's strength is when it comes to describing the characters who worked and/or w Ever wonder what the good old days were like, when one could just show up in NYC and land a receptionist gig at a prestigious magazine? One that gave you eight weeks off in the summer, four of them PAID? Sure, she did have the strength of an introduction. That helps. But the woman didn't even attend an Ivy League college! She was a midwestern Lutheran, daughter of grocers! See, that stuff never happens today. Sigh. Groth's strength is when it comes to describing the characters who worked and/or wrote for The New Yorker. We see John Berryman drop by and take her out to lunch (Groth was a former student of his at the University of Minnesota) and propose marriage (apparently, he did that a lot). Groth housesits for the Trillins, has an unfortunate affair with a devious cartoonist, and lunches every Friday for nearly 20 years with Joseph Mitchell. She travels abroad often in the summer, thanks to that 8 week vacation (4 weeks PAID!). The main weakness in the book is how abruptly it ends. I wanted to hear more about her trajectory from receptionist to scholar (she ended up with a PhD from Columbia after 12+ years of study, most of it part-time while she was working at the magazine, and has written several books on Edmund Wilson) and her marriage to Al Lazar (24 years older than her, which would make him in his 90s now--if he's still alive--but she doesn't say!). The last sentence of the book is: "I suppose you could say it was the end of an era." Um, O.K. Perhaps she is saving some material for a second memoir.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Confession: It has been...hmmm...maybe 7 years since I failed to finish a book? I'm one of those people who, once she commits, she gets through a book —— no matter how bad or good (because, as I've found on more than one occasion, sometimes the ending of a book can be so good it makes up for a slow beginning or sluggish middle). But this book? Nahh...I just...I just couldn't. I'd been invited to a meet and greet at my work with this author next week so I was initially excited to pick this one up Confession: It has been...hmmm...maybe 7 years since I failed to finish a book? I'm one of those people who, once she commits, she gets through a book —— no matter how bad or good (because, as I've found on more than one occasion, sometimes the ending of a book can be so good it makes up for a slow beginning or sluggish middle). But this book? Nahh...I just...I just couldn't. I'd been invited to a meet and greet at my work with this author next week so I was initially excited to pick this one up with the thought I'd get to speak about it with her in person. And the plot seemed engaging enough: A young receptionist's insights into working at the New Yorker? I was game. Yet, I just found Janet Groth (and yes, this book is about the author's OWN experiences at this job) to be a character I could not care for. I only read about 4 chapters or so of this memoir before recognizing that each was starting to feel the same-- "Let me tell you about this one famous New Yorker writer/he had a drinking problem/he was secretly in love with me/I was beautiful/he was brilliant" -- and because she was name-dropping writers who haven't been heard from and/or relevant since the '60s-'70s, I struggled all the more to care. All in all, with less than a month to my baby's due date, I'm not sacrificing what precious reading time I have left for a read that can't hold my attention. Down it goes ....

  29. 4 out of 5

    Uwe Hook

    Groth gets off to a good start, giving us what I would assume most readers would want from a book about an insider's view of The New Yorker in its heyday: Lots of intellectual anecdotes about Joseph Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark. But her vignettes weaken considerably as she gets into the embarrassing details of her love life, her search for herself, and all that other stuff that a young woman from the Midwest in the "Mad Men" era would have gone through in New York City. I don't know Groth gets off to a good start, giving us what I would assume most readers would want from a book about an insider's view of The New Yorker in its heyday: Lots of intellectual anecdotes about Joseph Mitchell, John Berryman, and Muriel Spark. But her vignettes weaken considerably as she gets into the embarrassing details of her love life, her search for herself, and all that other stuff that a young woman from the Midwest in the "Mad Men" era would have gone through in New York City. I don't know if it was loyalty to "her" writers or just an inability to describe the scene she was part of, but her stories are sadly lacking in insightful characterizations of the famous people she served at her desk in the lobby of the magazine. Some readers may have found her descriptions of her lovers and their horrid behavior interesting, but perhaps in another kind of book and for a different kind of reader. She does a lot of name-dropping, and boy, she did get to see all of the famous people and events of the time. As a memoir of the life of a career girl in New York right before women's liberation changed things, this has its moments if you're into that kind of thing. As a reminiscence of The New Yorker and its staff, it's going to disappoint.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John Beckham

    A great Read The book takes you into Americana of the 50s, tumult of the 60s, reaching the 70s. Author asides are fun, M. Sparks is great. Honest, fun, personal. New York City eateries and life rule.

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