The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
A Novel
by Clare Pooley

Hardcover (7 Jun 2022), 352 pages.
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
ISBN-13: 9781984878649
Genres
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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Authenticity Project comes an escapist read that will transport you, cheer you, and make you smile - and make you, too, wish you had Iona's gift for bringing out the best in everyone.

Nobody ever talks to strangers on the train. It's a rule. But what would happen if they did?

Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do.

Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He'd have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver.

This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you--and even more about yourself.

Iona
08:05 Hampton Court to Waterloo

Until the point when a man started dying right in front of her on the 08:05, Iona's day had been just like any other.

She always left the house at half past seven. It took her an average of twenty minutes to walk to the station in heels, which meant she'd usually arrive fifteen minutes before her train left for Waterloo. Two minutes later if she was wearing the Louboutins.

Arriving in good time was crucial if she wanted to secure her usual seat in her usual carriage, which she did. While novelty was a wonderful thing when it came to fashion, or film, or even patisserie, it was not welcome on her daily commute.

Some time ago, Iona's editor had suggested that she start working from home. It was, he'd told her, all the rage, and her job could be done just as well remotely. He'd tried to cajole her out of her office space with sweet talk of an extra hour in bed and more flexibility, and, when that didn't work, had attempted to drive her out by making her do something awful called hot desking, which-she learned-was corporate speak for sharing. Even as a child, Iona had never liked sharing. That little incident with the Barbie doll was still seared in her memory and, no doubt, her classmates' as well. No, boundaries were necessary. Luckily, Iona's colleagues quickly became familiar with which was her preferred desk, and it morphed from hot to decidedly frigid.

Iona loved going into the office. She enjoyed rubbing shoulders with all the youth, who taught her the latest lingo, played her their favorite new tracks, and told her what to watch on Netflix. It was important to keep at least one finger plugged into the zeitgeist, especially in her profession. Bea, bless her, wasn't much help on that front.

She wasn't, however, looking forward to today very much. Her latest editor had scheduled a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree appraisal, which sounded altogether too intimate. At her age (fifty-seven), one didn't like to be appraised too closely, and certainly not from every angle. Some things were best left to the imagination. Or not thought about at all, to be honest.

Anyhow, what did he know? Much like policemen and doctors, her editors seemed to get younger and younger with each passing year. This one, believe it or not, was conceived after the World Wide Web. He'd never known a world where phones were tethered to the wall and you had to look up facts in the Encycloaedia Britannica.

Iona thought back, somewhat wistfully, to her annual appraisals when she'd first started at the magazine, nearly thirty years ago. They didn't call them "appraisals" then, of course. They were called "lunch," and they happened at the Savoy Grill. The only downside was having to politely remove her editor's fat, sweaty hand from her thigh on a regular basis, but she was quite adept at that, and it was almost worth it for the sole meunire, deftly detached from the bone by a subservient waiter with a French accent, and washed down with a chilled bottle of Chablis. She tried to remember the last time someone-other than Bea-had attempted to grope her under a table, and couldn't. Not since the early nineties, in any case.

Iona checked her reflection in the hall mirror. She'd gone for her favorite red suit today-the one that shouted I mean business and Don't even think about it, mister.

"Lulu!" she called, only to discover the French bulldog already sitting right by her feet, ready to go. Another creature of habit. She leaned down to attach the lead to Lulu's hot-pink collar, studded with diamantŽ spelling out her name. Bea didn't approve of Lulu's accessories. Darling, she's a dog, not a child, she'd said on numerous occasions. Iona was quite aware of that. Children these days were rather selfish, lazy, and entitled, she thought. Not like darling Lulu at all.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley. Copyright © 2022 by Clare Pooley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Do you ever talk to strangers on public transportation? If not, why do you think that is? Which of the characters would you most—and least—like to share your commute with?
  2. Iona feels that, at fifty-seven, she's gone from "It Girl" to "Past-It Girl." Do you think that society, and the workplace, undervalue women once they pass fifty?
  3. The story is set in 2019—prepandemic. Do you think your experience of working from home has affected your view of the daily commute and your reading of the novel?
  4. Each of the characters in the book make assumptions about one another, which often turn out to be wrong. What assumptions did you make about them, and who surprised you the most?
  5. All the characters in the story are changed in some way, as a result of meeting one another. Who do you think are the most transformed?
  6. Iona talks about having experienced sexism, ageism, and homophobia. We know that these factors work together to influence Iona's experience, but which one do you think appears to have an outsized impact on her life?
  7. Iona loathes some of the "modern" ways of working—the brainstorms, beanbags, and corporate speak, for example. Do you agree with her? What are your least favorite aspects of corporate life, or the work world in general?
  8. There are three married couples in the story: Iona and Bea, Piers and Candida, and David and Olivia. What does this story teach us about long-term relationships? Candida walks away from her marriage because she believes Piers changed the rules. Do you have any sympathy for her?
  9. The characters in the novel span three generations. What do you think teenagers, millennials, and boomers can learn from one another?
  10. Martha believes she is not a "normal teenager." Is she right? What do we learn about the world when we see it through her eyes?
  11. Iona spends her life helping people with their problems, yet she's unable to ask for help herself. Do you think this is a common problem? Why is that?
  12. Do you agree with Iona's rules for commuting? What would your rules be?

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Pamela Dorman Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

While commuting, many don't acknowledge other passengers with so much as a nod, but when a man almost dies choking, a group of people who have nothing in common bond with one another.

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For the many years that I've been reading, one realization has always come to mind for me after putting down any book: Everyone has an unknown story. Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley perfectly depicts this truth. Pooley's characters — Iona, Piers, Sanjay, Emmie and Martha — are people we can imagine passing on a sidewalk, and within them, we find intricate thoughts and emotions that may at times mirror our own. These characters all take the train to get to their respective destinations, and they form relationships with one another after Piers, a man Iona describes as having too much pride, ends up choking during the commute. This becomes a catalyst for a series of events pulling them together. Some are having mid-life crises, while others are juggling teenage dreams. Their five different stories intertwine with one another to create a full picture, with each person's point of view represented in their respective chapters.

Those who find beauty in character-driven narratives will definitely see that beauty shining here. As the people in Pooley's book are all going through things that most humans living in the 21st century have experienced, it's almost an impossibility to not find yourself sympathizing with them. Our main character, Iona Iverson, is in her 50s, which doesn't stop her from having the youthful energy we all sometimes need in our lives. She provides advice and support for others, all while dealing with her own problems. She's like the glue of the group, someone who keeps the story unfolding, bridging the gaps between the characters. Pooley develops her fantastically, just as she writes and develops every other one of the people we follow, all with their own distinct voices but somehow slotting together like the pieces in a game of Tetris.

In fact, the relationships and bonds formed throughout the book are one of its main highlights. In every pairing, an interesting dynamic arises, challenging our perceptions of the characters. One duo that especially stuck out to me was Piers and Martha, two people who wouldn't normally talk to each other on the street, but who create a healthy support system for one another without crossing boundaries. Unconventional combos are formed, and the author guides readers into seeing the hidden treasures of these arrangements, even more so when all of them are put together, making for a perfect dissection of human interaction. There has been a recent wave of novels featuring characters finding solace in atypical groups of friends, such as The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. I'm certain Pooley's book will find a place amongst these and others in which readers encounter a sense of warmth.

This warmth, along with a feel-good quality, is quite prominent in the experience of reading the novel, where we find the good in humanity despite all the bad out there. In times when our world seems to be falling apart, Iona's comedic but genuine advice can weave itself into your mood and brighten it. Not to mention, the book is fairly easy to read and get through, so it's perfect for picking up whenever you need a relaxing moment. The plot is simple, and deals with issues and obstacles no one is too unfamiliar with. Each character is attempting to tackle life in some way: Piers is trying to balance his family and goals. Emmie is trying to be her usual best-achieving self as someone puts her down through anonymous messages. They're all in desperate need of support, which they find in one another as the incident on the train causes them to connect, leading to issues arising and being solved as the book progresses. For instance, Sanjay, a slightly awkward, good-hearted nurse, often deals with anxiety attacks. We learn, along with him, that these reactions don't make him any less worthy of a person, and other characters share similar experiences.

The plot can get cyclical at times, with certain points being repeated and moments igniting a sense of déjà vu. This did bother me in some areas of the story, but not enough to ruin it for me, and all in all I found this book to be an absolutely wonderful experience. So the next time you're seeking an escape from reality, the ride Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting takes you on will do the trick.

Reviewed by Noshin Haque

Shelf Awareness
Pooley's grasp on the constraints and longings of the human condition proves immensely entertaining. Readers will be charmed by this uplifting, hopeful story rife with tender insights. Traveling with Iona Iverson is a literary journey well worth taking!

Booklist (starred review)
[A] joyous tale about serendipitous friendship and seizing each day with vigor. The epitome of a feel-good book that is also laugh-out-loud hilarious…In a time when our differences so often divide us, Pooley's novel is like a reassuring hug, assuring readers that our differences can strengthen relationships and should be embraced and celebrated. A not-to-be-missed read in the mode of Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Kirkus Reviews
"As she did in The Authenticity Project (2020), author Pooley has created a cast of individual characters whose lives intersect around a focal point. As the story unfolds, readers learn about the complexities that make each character tick...A soothing story where bad things happen yet are overcome, and friendship leads the way to personal acceptance and rebirth.

Publishers Weekly
The commuters' judgmental attitudes at the story's start are a bit overdone...but the heartwarming tale of overcoming the atomization of modern life strikes a chord. Readers looking for a breezy and rewarding story will find much to love.

Author Blurb Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me More
Clare Pooley has found a delightful way to bring home the point that we need each other.

Author Blurb Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of One Two Three
Pooley delivers not only acerbic, enchanting Iona but a compelling, tangled cast of quirky, complicated characters so engaging, it's enough to make you miss crowded commuter trains.

Author Blurb Tara Conklin, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Romantics
Heartwarming, funny, a delicious dive into the profound and ridiculous modern world in which we live. Clare Pooley reminds us why we need each other.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Gabi
All Aboard
When a myriad of events bring an unlikely group of train commuters into each other’s lives, these strangers seemingly with little in common find precious friendship and new beginnings. The characters, relatable and likable, are a celebration of diversity in terms of life stages and circumstances. In particular, Iona, a 57 year old woman who is vibrant, smart and resilient with so much to contribute to society is a welcome stomp on ageism!

While contemporary fiction is not generally my genre of choice, this book was an entertaining, lighthearted read, yet importantly, not lacking substance. The pages found me cheering on the characters and left my heart happy.

“Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting” is a must-read for those looking for a delightful feel-good book!

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Generation Gaps in the Workplace

People of different ages working together in a modern office setting Walk into any office and you'll likely find a mix of people at different points of their lives: Baby boomers, Generation Xers, millennials. And the presence of Generation Z continues to grow.

Iona, the main character in Clare Pooley's Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting, often experiences people judging her competencies based on her age. She's on the older side, some feel she's past her prime, and she tries desperately to prove them wrong. But what do generational identities say about our capabilities as workers? To tackle this question, we'll first have a look at the impact our generational differences have on us in the workplace, and then delve into the truth of the issue.

How do generational differences affect us in the workplace?

It isn't hard to notice the differences between one age group and another: music, communication methods and even values. These differences can manifest themselves in a negative way in the workplace and cause us to argue, taking work from productive and efficient to a situation of lowered engagement. Soon enough, this can become frustrating, and we may have a tendency to blame our generational differences for it, especially if we already hold biases towards one another based on our ages.

The truth

Though some employees may think that they are simply unable to work with a person who isn't in the same stage of life as them, or that some generations are less reliable, our distinctions in work patterns and capabilities aren't as accentuated as all that. Research has indicated that the correlation between our generational upbringing and the way we act in and experience the workforce is close to zero, meaning there is little difference in attitudes towards work between generations.

When different generations do find it difficult to work together, this may stem from stereotypes, or the fear people have of what others think of them due to said stereotypes. For example, in one experiment, trainers were asked to teach technological tasks to people who, through a combination of photographs and voice technology, were manipulated to appear as if they fell into particular age ranges. Since the trainers already had lower expectations of the "older" workers, this affected how they interacted with them and the results of the training were less favorable.

How to deal with it

In order to not hinder our productivity, it is important that we tackle stereotypes and our assumptions of others. Dismantling the reasoning behind them can bring us a step closer to overcoming them.

Megan Gerhardt, a management professor at Miami University, has researched the impacts of generational differences in the work field. "Many of the generational conversations in the news today rely on false stereotypes and clickbait headlines, rather than taking the time to understand the important differences that are a part of our generational identities," she claims.

To create the best work environment possible, we must comprehend that at the end of the day, we're all different people. And this is entirely normal.

People of different ages working together, by Andrea Piacquadio

Filed under Society and Politics

By Noshin Haque

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