051 GRO The Receptionist

When the current craze for memoirs struck, I kept finding myself wondering who these people were and why we should care about their lives? It seemed to me that having done something notable with one’s life was a prerequisite for a memoir being worth writing, let alone being read.

Janet Groth falls on the edge of this classification in my mind. Her life seems to be largely notable because she’s lived her life on the margins of the lives of other notable people. In particular, she happened to work at The New Yorker in the midst of the William Shawn era, which to my mind, was when the best writing was published in the magazine (please don’t get me started on the Tina Brown period which is when I stopped reading the magazine).

Being on the margins means Groth’s own story is marginal. At times she’s wonderfully informative, for example, when writing about her experiences freelancing for Muriel Spark (who is inexplicably identified by the jacket copy as a playwright). At times she is a bit gossipy and some of her attempts at disguising the identities of the people she writes about are laughable in their failure.

There’s almost a good book here, but I feel like for that to happen, it would have needed to have less Groth and more of her environment in the telling.

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