A semi-charmed life
Janet Groth spent 21 years working as a receptionist on the 18th floor at The New Yorker. She answered phones, took messages and soothed troubled souls, of which there were many. She coordinated office socials, babysat the children of staff members, watered plants and house-sat for the many writers and artists she came into contact with. She had a steady stream of lunch dates with a wide variety of New Yorker personalities. She took several extended trips to Europe somewhat subsidized by the magazine and was invited to parties attended by notables like Dorothy Parker. She was able to work her way through graduate school, obtain a Ph.D. from Columbia and lecture at another East Coast university every Friday for a number of years, all while holding down her position as receptionist. But the big questions Groth addresses concerning her time at The New Yorker were why she didn't move up the ranks, why she remained a receptionist for so long and why she put up with it. To that I say, "Really?"
I don't know why Ms. Groth felt she had to justify her time as a receptionist. It wasn't clear to me that she wanted to do something different at the magazine. She was obviously great at her job and it allowed her the freedom to explore New York City and the world in a way that a receptionist's salary elsewhere never would have. She was also free of the craziness and stress of deadlines that drove many of the other New Yorker staffers to serious drinking problems and nervous breakdowns. I feared early on that Groth would be eaten up by the big city, but she eventually found herself and cultivated a very rich personal and professional life.
This account of the years between 1957 and 1978 is a spectacular look at one young woman's move from Minnesota to Manhattan and the way she and the rest of the world changed and grew during that time of great upheaval. The assassinations of several key political leaders, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Women's Movement contributed to a general state of turbulence. Much more than a "behind the scenes look at The New Yorker" this memoir examines the life of Janet Groth, a complex and brainy girl from the Midwest who, among other things, worked as a receptionist at The New Yorker.