Thursday, August 23, 2012

Janet Groth, The Receptionist

But NOT your everyday receptionist, let me tell you! The subtitle of this delightfully unusual book is, "An Education at the New Yorker." A 1957 college graduate from Minnesota, Janet Groth showed her gumption and style early on when she interviewed for a position at The New Yorker magazine with E. B. White. Rather than be intimidated, she quite rightly told him when he inquired about her typing skills, that she intentionally did NOT learn to type as she had no intention of being stuck in the typing pool. You've got to love it.

  Instead, she became the receptionist and remained the receptionist for twenty some years during which time she lived a life one can't help but envy even though it was fraught with unrequited love and shockingly, a thwarted suicide attempt. 

These were the days before political correctness, vegan diets and Evian. These were the days, some of you may remember, of three martini lunches and indiscreet friendships with co-workers or bosses. These were also days when an $80.00 a week salary allowed for a young, single woman to travel to Europe for the extended summer vacation, on her own, footloose and fancy free. And yes, The New Yorker was extremely generous with its time off. Where, one might ask, did we go wrong?

Ms. Groth interacted with a plethora of fabulously interesting people and soon became one of those interesting people herself. The author Muriel Spark sent her as proxy to a fancy dress ball at a castle in Great Britain, she house sat a home in Cortona, Italy, for an entire season. She was a confidant to the wonderful Calvin Trillin and his family, babysitting, running errands, and making herself indispensable to so many. She spent a summer in Greece without ever worrying about safety, security, or the need for a traveling companion. I believe that, refreshingly, she enjoyed her own company. 

What I most enjoyed about this open, honest memoir is how it reflects the last half of the twentieth century and one woman's reaction to the rapid changes, the civil rights and womens' movements, the politics, the naivetee when we believed that the Kennedy Camelot era would bring change to the government. Funny how all things are cyclical. Who would have thought I'd live through that hope and change thing twice! 

Ms. Groth had always wanted to be a writer and, apparently, just being around them was enough for her for quite some time. I get that. However, she couldn't keep her pen still forever and pursued graduate degrees, a Phd. and a rewarding career in academia. Her writing is perfection itself. Simple, clear, direct, she relies on her amazing memory (she must have kept tons of diaries) and remembers such telling little details from her childhood and young adulthood that she graces the readers (at least those of a certain age) with many ah ha moments. I spent a wonderful week in her company.


Lisa May said...

Thanks for your review - I hadn't heard of this book and now I'm off to find a copy.

Sallyb said...

That's great news! I really hope you enjoy it. Thanks for commenting.

Sallyb said...
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