The Rich are Different from You and Me
10 Great Books about Wealth & Luxe, from Ramona Ausubel
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When I started a novel about rich people who weren’t happy (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, Riverhead, 2016), I worried the world would emit one giant eye roll. I knew to keep writing, because I couldn’t untangle the knot. Most of us have something that someone else wants. Maybe we feel good about what we have, or maybe we feel bad — neither state helps the person who lacks. Guilt, shame, and desire follow money wherever it travels. Money is a force in the world, a real and material force, but also an energetic one. It’s tied to fantasies and occupies a huge space of imagination — what we would do if we had more? what we would do if we had less? In what ways does wealth free us and in what ways does it set us free? How are we corrupted and how are we set right?
Here, then, are ten books about wealth — inheriting it, losing it, hating it, loving it, faking it, making it.
1. Mrs. Bridge
by Evan S. Connell
A knife-sharp portrait of a person locked in the prison of leisure. In 117 vignettes, Connell shows us a life made smaller and smaller by one woman’s attempts to stay within the lines, upset no rules, and always keep up appearances. It’s also funny and beautiful and profound.
2. Sag Harbor
by Colson Whitehead
Two brothers go from their Manhattan prep school to a black enclave in otherwise white Sag Harbor. The novel is about the expectations the world holds us to based on race and class and family, but also about the possibility of inventing ourselves over and over again.
3. All Souls
by Christine Schutt
At the Siddons School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the year opens with the news that a senior, Astra Dell, has a strange disease from which she will not recover. The girls in school, the teachers and the parents each handle the situation differently, each reflecting the shock of a situation that one cannot buy her way out of, a situation that is terribly sad but that also offers uncomfortable pleasures — gratitude for being the ones to live, the selfish generosity toward the dying.
4. The Stories of John Cheever
It’s Westchester County — cocktail parties, finery, work, and wealth — but there’s an elephant walking across the hills, a magic radio and a man who experiences an entire lifetime of loss in one suburban swim.
5. Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
Private jets with yoga studios, endless real estate porn, climate controlled closets, and a Singapore wedding that draws together the narrowest upper margin of upper margins.
6. The Nest
by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Plumbs have been waiting for their littlest sister to turn forty, an age that unlocks their trust fund. They’ve all been counting on the money (and spending it ahead of time) but one brother has put the whole thing in jeopardy (hot waitress, booze, sports car). It’s a book about what money can save your from and what it can’t, and the people who let you down and save you.
7. The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Money and lies and parties and summer on Long Island and some of the best lines in all of literature. What else is there?
by Susan Minot
The seven children — the title’s “monkeys” — grow up in New England privilege, and Minot offers a searing portrait of their lives. The writing is as crisp as the pleats: “Mum knuckles the buttons of Chicky’s snowsuit till he’s knot-tight.”
9. The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Lily Barton is well-born, beautiful, and raised to marry a rich man (she doesn’t have any money herself) but she’s 29 and prospects are quickly dimming. The novel is a critique of greed, social hierarchies, and the moral code of the upper class as we watch Lily slip into the margins of society.
10. Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner
A book about the friendship between Larry Morgan, his wife Sally, and Sid and Charity Lang. The former are working their way up in the world while the latter are from established families, living comfortably and assuredly. The relationship is lifelong, from the time the couples meet in Ann Arbor when Larry takes a job as a creative writing professor to the time Charity dies of cancer and includes all the stages of life and the constant weaving of class, ambition, and desire.
About the Author
Ramona Ausubel grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of a new novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, from Riverhead Books, as well as the novel No One is Here Except All of Us (2012), and a collection of short stories A Guide to Being Born (2013). Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, she has also been a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Story Award and theInternational Impac Dublin Literary Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, One Story, Electric Literature, FiveChapters, the Green Mountains Review, Slice and elsewhere and collected in The Best American Fantasy and online in The Paris Review.