Review: The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker
The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not a bad book — It’s just being promoted incorrectly. This is not about the New Yorker magazine, nor is is about the world of magazine publishing. It’s almost three different books (which is a way of saying it reads a little disjointedly).

The first part is a breezy, gossip-columnist style piece, full of name-dropping of celebrities and literati of the past. I think this is the weakest part of the book, as it is just enough distant past that the casual reader isn’t quite familiar enough with the luminaries to care, and Groth doesn’t give us the background that would make it exciting.

The middle part was great — How does a young career girl from the midwest make her way in the big city? How will she decide what kind of a person she is, and what kind of life she will have? The late 1950s to early 1970s were years of incredible change for women in any profession, and Groth’s trajectory of learning how to be true to herself and how to be a real friend to another woman was enjoyable to read. Her chapter on her roommate who was involved politically with Malcolm X was the strongest.

Also, the title is a bit of a ruse. Yes, she was a receptionist. She also was a graduate student and attended opera, book parties, theatre openings on Broadway, summered in Europe, studied at Oxford, and house-sat for the rich and famous. Being a “receptionist” was a door to a deeply enriching life.

The end is a summary of what Groth has learned about herself through psychoanalysis. While I applaud her work and her success, this wasn’t that interesting, either. I wish so much she had written more of her decision to begin her doctorate, choose her dissertation topic, and even about her life as a professor. Instead, she turned her life story back on itself and made the finding of a husband the culminating event. However, it is her life story and, if that’s what she wants to emphasize, it is her choice.

A charming look into a rarified world I know nothing about.

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