A prefeminist look into “The New Yorker”
While the next season of Mad Men feels like an eternity away, we can’t help but rummage around for ways to fill the retro void. Fortunately, there’s an intriguing new memoir to bide the time.
The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker chronicles Janet Groth's 21-year stint (from 1957 to 1978) as secretary to the writers’ floor at the landmark literary magazine. Right away, she recounts her interview with E.B. White, in which, as a 19-year-old Midwest transplant, she announces her intention to never wind up in a typing pool. (She wanted to be taken seriously as a professional writer.)
So how did she end up taking messages for two decades? Was it a product of gender discrimination, a lack of confidence on her part or simply complacency to remain the caretaker to the mid-century elite?
Less a feminist reading of an institution than a thoughtful recollection of the era's major players, The Receptionist at its heart explores Groth’s personal relationships--from platonic cohorts (like playwright Muriel Spark) to illicit suitors (such as an unnamed cartoonist to whom she lost her virginity).
A fascinating coming-of-age page-turner, it delivers all the scandal of summer chick lit with none of the Fifty Shades of Grey aftertaste.