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The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker Hardcover – June 26, 2012

2.6 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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

About the Author

Janet Groth, Emeritus Professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, has also taught at Vassar, Brooklyn College, the University of Cincinnati, and Columbia. She was a Fulbright lecturer in Norway and a visiting fellow at Yale and is the author of Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time (for which she won the NEMLA Book Award) and coauthor of Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616201312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616201319
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Fritz on July 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was so excited to read this book about my favorite magazine and the culture around it during the years I grew up. After reading the first few chapters, I was thrilled to read the chapter about John Berryman and the author, and I found myself reading slowly to make the book last longer. By the middle of the book, I felt empty but I kept going, hoping the author would write about some self awareness or maturity at some point. The escapades which seemed to be meant to be interesting and exciting, left me feeling sad and empty. Where is the heart of the stories? Reading about one romp after another with no awareness or growth on the part of the author leads to a boring tale of bed hopping with name dropping thrown in for effect. I wish the book had not felt so superficial. It left me cold, and by the time the author left for greener, saner pastures, I had lost interest.
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If you have ever wanted a behind the scenes look at THE NEW YORKER magazine, or first-hand glimpses of New York City in the 1950's-1970's, or a perspective on a time through the lens of an individual life, you might enjoy this vivacious account by Janet Groth of her stint as a receptionist at THE NEW YORKER. Interviewed for a position by the magazine's most famous staff writer E.B. White who queried, "Can you type?", the author of this book responded, "Not at a professional level."

"I was afraid, you see," the author explained to White, "that if I became a skilled typist, I would wind up in an office typing pool." This kind of amusing and genuine candor pervades this memoir.

"And you don't want to wind up there?" White asked.

"No, I think anything would be more interesting to me than that," said Janet Groth, corn-fed college grad from Iowa. White hired her. We always knew that White, the author of CHARLOTTE'S WEB and THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, had imagination and a sense of humor.

More interesting indeed. A tenure as a receptionist from 1957-1978 on the Writers' floor--Floor 18--combined with a six month sojourn with the artists and cartoonists on the 20th Floor at the preeminent serious fiction and journalism magazine of New York.

THE NEW YORKER was described by its writers as a haven for the "congenitally unemployable". Groth knew she was different from the other staff at the magazine. She was employable--apparently for 21 years.
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I have to begin by saying that this book is not really about The New Yorker per se but rather is the memoir a midwestern girl who started working there after college and learned the life lessons that legions of young people learn when they move from cloistered small town life to the big bad city. Those seeking a true inside look at the workings of The New Yorker would be better off reading James Thurber's "The Years With Ross" or Brendan Gill's "Here At The New Yorker." A fresh-faced graduate of the University of Minnesota writing program, Ms Groth came to the magazine in 1957, during the rather sleepy era of William Shawn's editorship, with the intention of starting modestly - hopefully not in the typing pool - and eventually getting some writing published there. She held the position of 18th floor receptionist for twenty-plus years and never got a word published in The New Yorker. One of the questions I kept asking as I read along, which isn't answered until the final chapter, is why that was so. More on that later.

My problem with the book is that Ms Groth's story is made special only by the fact that she worked at a famous magazine among some legendary literateurs and cartoonists and got to know many of them in a fairly modest way She begins her book with a few chapters on people she got to know rather better, John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell and Muriel Spark. Unfortunately the story then quickly descends into a tale of her going from midwestern virgin to self-described "party girl" via a series of short- and long-term affairs with men she met at work. The names of these gentlemen have been changed to avoid embarrassment and/or lawsuits.
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I wasn't expecting gossipy, but was expecting an insightful book by someone who had the opportunity to meet many of the great writers of the late 20th century. It's a dull series of he-done-me-wrong anecdotes, with an occasional commentary on the author's hair style at a given event. It goes nowhere. It says nothing. It isn't worth anyone's time to read. The book begins with a half-hearted defense of why the writer remained a receptionist and never progressed. Halfway in, it's clear that wherever her talents may lie, writing is not one of them. And if you are looking for the odd clever story, most characters are disguised, so the most fascinating aspect of the book -- the people she worked with -- often aren't there.

It's painful to write such a poor review, but how this was ever published is an absolute mystery.
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