I was in the midst of reading this memoir when I felt a stab of envy at the author’s description of the eight weeks of summer vacation, half paid, that she received each year at The New Yorker. What do you want to bet clerical staff at the magazine no longer get that?
As we know from Mad Men, workplaces back in the fifties and sixties could be sexist and degrading for women. It was difficult to get out of the secretarial pool (still is, actually). My mother, however, claims that back then working was “fun” in a way it no longer is. At every institution I’ve worked, it does seem like decades ago, the place was a lot more fun.
Also, I believe that back then 9 to 5 meant 9 to 5, not 9 to 6, as it does now.
Finally, the glamour seems gone. I know from my past that working in places that involve author readings means that the author comes in, promotes a book, and is gone. It does not mean that the place is an intellectual hangout for writers, or that you will be socializing with them, as you might have been in times gone by.
Perhaps more envy-inducing than the literary friendships and book parties were the summer vacations she writes about: eight trips to Europe during her years at the magazine, each one lasting a month or more, often with pay (a princely $80 a week). “The New Yorker believed in long summer vacations for their receptionists,” Ms. Groth deadpanned.
In the passage, Ms. Groth addresses her years at the receptionist desk and grapples with whether The New Yorker somehow mistreated her. But after considering the vacations, flexible work schedule and the many “intangibles” like party invites and a front-row seat to New York literary life, she concluded, “It is not clear to me who was exploiting whom.”