Tag Archives: American journalism

Working 9 to 5

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $14.95, 240 pages)

The Receptionist

Then there was the shame of the writer who doesn’t write. The me who carried within my breast in equal shares the conviction that I could write and the certainty that I could not.

Longtime fans of The New Yorker magazine are the perfect audience for this memoir. Ms. Groth writes of her 20+ years as a receptionist on the 18th floor of the building where the magazine offices were located. The floor housed 40 writers and six or more cartoonists. The reception desk can be likened to a ringside seat at a much-loved and revered weekly publication.

The opening chapters serve as a low-key introduction to Ms. Groth, a newly-minted graduate of the University of Minnesota with aspirations of becoming a writer. The move to New York City was like going to a foreign land after living in the Mid-West. These slowly-evolving vignettes are strung together to illustrate her rather humble beginnings at the magazine.

The vignettes offer the reader glimpses into a world of art and literature based in Manhattan where the game of six degrees of separation can be traced back to Ms. Groth’s earliest years – beginning in 1957, right up to her “graduation” to the world of college teaching in 1978 after earning a PhD in literature from NYU. Her grammar is impeccable and the evenly-paced narrative becomes remarkably open with many elements of her life that are both risque and expected for life in Manhattan during the sexual revolution. It is as if the reader is delving into all aspects of Ms. Groth’s life after getting to know her.

A young woman whose job is receptionist in a rarefied circumstance sees and hears rather remarkable things. She can become indispensable to the staff and literally become part of their lives outside of work. This is especially true when she is a constant presence in an otherwise changing array of personnel. Clearly, some of the long-time and revered writers and editors form the nucleus of the staff and their interactions with Ms. Groth are fascinating.

Today it would be unusual for an employee to maintain a receptionist position for such a long time in one department or company or area of an organization. To her credit, Ms Groth provides the reader with an even-handed account of her ownership of what transpired over her two decades at The New Yorker. It is a sui generis true story.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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A book giveaway for Anglophiles!

My Paper Chase 2Ten years ago, a distinguished English reporter, Donald Trelford of The Observer, wrote this about Harold Evans, editor of the Sunday (London) Times:   “The book Harry should write now is the story of his own life, from St. Mary’s Road Central School in Manchester to the Sunday Times to the conquest of corporate America and rubbing shoulders with the Washington elite.”   Well, Harold Evans has now written that book, entitled My Paper Chase, and this autobiography of almost 600 pages is being released by Little, Brown and Company.   We have 5 copies to give away!

Here is the Google books overview of My Paper Chase:  

“In My Paper Chase, Harold Evans recounts the wild and wonderful tale of newspapering life.   His story stretches from the 1930s to his service in World War II, through town big and off the map.   He discusses his passion for the crusading style of reporting he championed, his clashes with Rupert Murdoch, and his struggle to use journalism to better the lives of those less fortunate.   There’s a star studded cast and a tremendously vivid sense of what once was:  the lead type, the smell of the presses, eccentrics throughout and angry editors screaming over the intercoms.   My Paper Chase tells the stories of Evans’s great loves:  newspapers and Tina Brown, the bright, young journalist who became his wife.   In an age when newspapers everywhere are under threat, My Paper Chase is not just a glorious recounting of an amazing life, but a nostalgic journey in black and white.”

It should be noted that Harold Evans was the newspaper editor who broke the worldwide story about thalidomide and led the effort to justly compensate the victims of this improperly tested drug.   My Paper Chase is 592 pages, sounds fascinating for readers and newspaper lovers (and prospective journalists) and sells for a list price of $27.99.   Thanks to Valerie at Hachette Book Group (HBG), we’re giving away five new hardbound copies to our own loyal readers.

What are the contest rules?   As usual, they’re very simple.   To enter this contest, send your name and e-mail address to josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as one entry.   For a second entry, complete the following sentence:  “If I were to visit England, the first thing I would like to see is _______________________.”  

The deadline for submitting entries – and we’re giving everyone plenty of time – is Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at midnight PST.   On Wednesday, November 25th, Munchy the cat will pick out the names of the 5 winners from a large plastic container.   The winners will be notified the next day, for Thanksgiving, via e-mail.   Don’t forget that you can’t win if you don’t enter!

Note:   For this contest, prior contest winners of HGB books are not eligible.   (If in doubt, enter anyway and we will verify eligibility.)   Also, you must receive your mail at a residential (street) address in the continental U.S. or Canada.   HBG will not mail books to P.O. boxes.

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