Fifteen Books for April 15 (Tax Day)

With America’s official yearly tax day yesterday, thoughts turn to tranquilizers…um…money.

Most fictional works touch on money in some direct or indirect way, but of course some focus on it more than others. And it’s quite a topic! What reader can’t relate to making or losing money, not having enough of it, being jealous of people who are affluent, being disgusted with showy or immoral uses of money, being appalled at how heartless some of the rich can be, being heartened by charitable uses of money, etc.?

Some novels with a more-pronounced-than-average money motif? Let’s discuss a few of them.

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth portrays Lily Bart as she moves in a wealthy social circle while not being wealthy herself. That lack of money greatly complicates her life, especially given that she has the integrity to not marry men (however rich) she doesn’t love.

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is about various things, and one of them is the get-rich urge of people participating in New Zealand’s 1860s West Coast Gold Rush. Similarly, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is in one way a “dog book,” but it’s also about greed relating to the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the title character gets rich in large part to impress a woman (Daisy) with whom he wants to reunite, while living his shallow existence in Long Island, N.Y., splendor.

The co-protagonist in Emile Zola’s Paris-based The Ladies’ Delight is a 19th-century department-store magnate who ruthlessly amasses a fortune as he drives mom-and-pop shops out of business. Think an 1800s version of Walmart…

A French shopkeeper who stars in Honore de Balzac’s Cesar Birotteau goes bankrupt because of property speculation that involves someone trying to get revenge on Cesar. Much of the novel — which includes several unsavory bankers as secondary characters — focuses on Birotteau’s honest efforts to pay off his debt.

Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s novel The Gilded Age (which coined that famous term) also takes on property speculation, including a decades-long effort to sell land in the lust to get rich.

(Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That features a protagonist who painstakingly saves lots of money for a planned retirement on some tropical island, then uses almost all those funds for his wife’s medical expenses in the universal healthcare-lacking United States, and then…

In Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, the ambitious protagonist is always trying to get or save enough money — for the rent, for her education, and more.

The title character in George Eliot’s Silas Marner is a miser in the first part of the book, but it’s more depression than greed that makes him that way.

Then there’s Theodore Dreiser’s The Financier, Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, and Herman Melville’s Wall Street-set “Bartleby, the Scrivener” short story — which is almost long enough to be a novella.

We’ll end with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The title just about says it all.

What are your favorite fictional works with a strong money aspect?

Here’s an April 10 review
of, and an April 11 video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.

38 thoughts on “Fifteen Books for April 15 (Tax Day)

  1. Well, I’m back. My friend had to postpone her visit because of a sick dog, which I totally understand. I hope she’ll be arriving a week from Saturday, but we’ll have to see what happens to her dog, Eddie.

    I thought of another mystery writer who took days of the week to differentiate his books from one another — Harry Kemelman, who wrote about David Rabbi Small, starting with “Friday the Rabbi Slept Late.” I enjoyed these books, not only for the writing, but also to learn about conservative Judaism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry about the postponement of your friend’s visit, Kat Lib. Hope her dog Eddie feels better soon.

      Days of the week to differentiate books — nice!

      Not sure if you’ve ever read George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” but that to me is the most memorable novel with a (partly) Judaism theme I’ve ever read. And Eliot, of course, was not Jewish. 🙂

      Like

      • Dave, thanks for your good wishes about Eddie. Last I heard he had just swallowed a bee to add to his other problems, oh no! Anyway, I haven’t read “Daniel Deronda” but I do have a DVD of a mini-series based on that book, and I did find it very interesting and something I wouldn’t have thought would have been written by Eliot, or any British author for that matter at that time. While I haven’t seen many films recently, I do rely on good or excellent reproductions from BBC or A&E of books or mini-series to keep me somewhat up-to-date or should I say “with classics”?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Swallowed a bee? Yikes!

          I’ve watched snippets of that “Daniel Deronda” miniseries on YouTube, and it does look excellent! It’s heartening when classic novels are given good screen adaptations.

          Yes, that was an usual book by George Eliot. Having Jewish characters in a 19th-century British novel, and depicting them positively and non-stereotypically — not expected!

          Like

  2. Hi Dave,

    I was randomly going to ask you if you’d ever done a blog on short stories, but after a quick look it turns out that you have. Not that I’m surprised. Anything I can think of, you’ve usually thought of months earlier 🙂

    Thinking about the topic this week, there really is reference to money in most books. I’m reading Stephen King’s “IT” about a bunch of terrorised children, who grow up and forget their terror, and become rich and successful. Of course, the terror has called them back home, so the success (and amnesia) is short lived, but it is pointed out that all 6 of them don’t struggle to pay the rent each week.

    Money is also a bit of an issue for Owen Meany. Lucky he has John’s grandmother as his ‘benefactor’ to help him have the right clothes at the right school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue!

      Well, when one writes enough blog posts (I think I’ve done 250-300 since 2011), one inevitably covers almost every topic. 🙂 Next, novels by natives of Neptune…

      You’re right — most fiction, like most of real life, includes some money aspect.

      “A Prayer for Owen Meany” author John Irving also gets into some money-related issues with “The Cider House Rules.”

      Like

      • Oh no! Yet another topic that I’ve not read before, and will need to be added to my TBR list!

        I’m loving Irving’s writing, or maybe I just love Owen (doesn’t everybody?). I’m certainly enjoying it much more than the King novel which has sadly been a bit of a disappointment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, Sue!

          King has written the occasional near-clunker — “Cell”! — but, as you know, most of his novels are excellent.

          Irving IS a wonderfully quirky writer. Not my favorite author by any means, but I’ve enjoyed and been impressed with the three novels I’ve read by him (also including “The World According to Garp”).

          Like

  3. Wharton, for the money:

    Ethan Frome is also a book centered on money.

    The privations wrought on Ethan and the farm by female invalids in succession– some more invalid than others– starve hope itself, and love too, till each are unrecognizable, twisted out of shape into endless guilt..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very true, jhNY, and your final paragraph is eloquently said.

      “Ethan Frome” is a powerful novel in which Edith Wharton changes up and looks at money, poverty, etc., from a lower-class rather than an upper-class angle.

      Like

      • A complicated little book, I thought when I read it last year– well-crafted, and carefully too.

        Because of females’ failing health, real and imagined, the margins of profit that might have been realized on the Frome farm, thin though would always have been, were cut too fine– seems to me the poor folk depicted are mostly poor through personal failing– Ethan by going along with whatever fate females have designed for him, the mother first, then the wife, and then his would-be lover by their various weaknesses– only the mother’s (old age) seems unavoidable.

        Is that not an upper class way of looking at things?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, jhNY!

          Yes, Ethan does have a bit of a masochism complex or something. Still, he has some bad luck, too. And of course when the rich err, they have a financial safety net; when someone in Ethan’s economic situation makes bad decisions, it can be a train wreck (or a sled wreck).

          I agree — a very well-crafted book, including that outsider narrator.

          Like

  4. Hi Dave,

    Very interesting topic, as usual. I immediately thought of Edith Wharton, but I think your pick, The House of Mirth, is a better one than The Custom of the Country, the one that came to my mind. After I finished reading The House of Mirth, one of the most depressing books of all time, I remember coming across a reference to a book by Edith Wharton that is actually happy — called Summer, I think — and I mean to read it some day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sheila!

      I think both “The House of Mirth” and “The Custom of the Country” are very relevant to this topic; I was debating which of the two to mention when writing the post. (I only wanted to name one novel per author.) Both books ARE really depressing.

      Wow — a happy Edith Wharton book?! I haven’t experienced that yet. 🙂 Will put “Summer” on my to-read list!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dave,

    I know it’s not exactly what you’re talking about this week, but whenever somebody says money in literature, I automatically think of Dickens. His novels include both characters with, and characters without money. And his protagonists are often focused on having more money. Sadly, getting that money often changes those characters, which I don’t think happens in the real world (though I’d be more than happy to take some millions to either prove or disprove that theory!).

    Lots of money in Dumas’ “Count of Monte Cristo”. Is it bad that I greatly enjoy the Count’s use of that money, even though some of it is kind of evil? I think I need a re-read of that terrific classic in the near future.
    Great to see mention of “The Luminaries”. Another novel where people aren’t always kind to each other, instead focusing on what they can financially gain from betraying people. But like Dumas, it’s all good fun.

    Happy Easter for last weekend, and thanks for another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! I can definitely understand thinking about money when thinking of Dickens. The poor and rich of London (as you allude to), the miser Scrooge, inheritances, etc!

      “…I’d be more than happy to take some millions to either prove or disprove that theory” — funnily put. 🙂

      Very true about how money helped Dantes get his epic revenge in “The Count of Monte Cristo”! Glad he had that fortune, courtesy of his late Chateau d’If prison-mate.

      Happy Easter to you, too!

      Like

  6. Because the real tax-filing day this year is today, April 18, which is also National Columnists Day, I didn’t read this column until the deadline. And because I’m a columnist, I have no useful experience with money. So carry on without me. #IAmAColumnist. #NSNC17.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s right, Bill — America’s tax deadline is 18th this year! I like National Columnists Day a lot more. 🙂

      Ha — “because I’m a columnist, I have no useful experience with money.” I hear you. I’d settle for useless experience with money…

      Greatly enjoyed your comment!

      Like

  7. Dave,

    In a classic New Year’s Resolution (classic in the sense that March 21) was the first day of the new year, I promise to put more fiction a/o Maya Angelou on my reading list. Like this thread. Being a list-maker, I’d really be delighted if you’d put a bullet-list at the end of each post with nothing more than author title:
    * Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. …

    Thanks, ~ M’nM

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, applemcg!

      Maya Angelou’s memoirs are definitely known for their literary techniques. I’ve read the first one (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) — and it’s like reading a novel, only true.

      I do lists once in a while, but I guess it’s not something I do every week. 🙂

      Like

  8. Hi Dave, you listed several favorites of mine, “The House of Mirth” and “Silas Marner.” The other novel I loved was “So Much for That,” by Ms. Shriver. At the time I read this book, I was undergoing multiple major medical problems, and I had gone on disability while working for a large healthcare insurer, so I know how the system works. I was having misgivings about working for an insurer, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t have survived without the very good benefits I’d had in place. At one point I figured out I’d racked up at least a million dollars of billed charges. It’s awful to think that this country doesn’t have Medicare for all or some kind of universal healthcare. Yet our current leaders think nothing about kicking off millions of people from Obamacare, which while not perfect, did give some people coverage that didn’t have it before.

    OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now and mention another novel that has much to do with money matters, or the lack of it, “The Wings of the Dove,” by Henry James. Kate and Densher are secretly engaged, but neither has the money in order to get married. Into their lives comes Milly, an extremely wealthy American heiress. Kate learns that Milly has a very serious medical condition, so she concocts a plan to have Densher get Milly to fall in love with him, marry and inherit her vast estate. Things don’t go quite according to plan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lib!

      I loved “So Much for That” on several levels, including its devastating (while entertaining) take-down of America’s awful-for-all-but-the-rich medical system. You’ve certainly experienced that firsthand, more than you would ever want to.

      “Medicare for all” or a similar system in the U.S. would be wonderful — saving countless lives and making people less stressed than they already are when they get sick. And, yes, Obamacare helped some, and the fact that Republicans were (and probably still are) trying to get rid of it is heartless-heartless-heartless.

      “The Wings of the Dove” has been on my list for a long time. I guess I have to psych myself up to read another late-career Henry James novel. 🙂 Loved “The Ambassadors,” but it was not always an easy read. Great description/summary of “The Wings of the Dove” by you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, this seems to be one of those quiet times for commenters on your blog, which I assume has something to do with a holiday week. I wanted to let you know (if you care? 🙂 that I’ll be welcoming my best friend into town tomorrow which is why I’ve yet to get to your book and may be quiet for almost a week. I’m so excited to see her, and she loves books, so I’m sure we’ll spend time talking about that!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Kat Lib! Yes, a relatively quiet week — possibly because of the holidays, possibly because of the topic. 🙂 But that’s okay once in a while! I’ve been kind of busy myself with work, and with my younger daughter on Spring Break from school.

          Wonderful that you’re seeing your best friend! Have a great time!

          And thanks for mentioning my book here, and to her. Very kind of you.

          Like

    • I completely agree, Kat Lib. Our health care system is lacking in so many ways. I will be working well past retirement age just to maintain benefits, and many, if not most, of my peers in the medical field are in the same boat.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Pat! I still remember the day an infectious disease physician came to me in the hospital to tell me I had a staph infection and he asked me where I worked. I told him that I worked for medical directors at a major healthcare company, and he replied, “Oh, the Evil Empire!” which didn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in his ability to treat me. However, he turned out to be a great doc, as were most of the medical professionals I dealt with, with just a few exceptions, but the many nurses and aides I had for years were top-notch.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. In real lie it`s been said Donald Trump is a multi billionaire Dave, and there are books by him written by ghost writers how to be that way but we shall never know.
    TAX day tomorrow, most of us will be paying taxes, but we shall never know what 45th will do ,will never see his returns or who visits the White House , the guest log will remain dark and it is not even 100 days.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true, bebe. You’ve listed many of Trump’s billions of faults.

      The Predator-in-Chief won’t release his tax returns, has paid little or no federal taxes, is secretive about important things, never wrote his own books, almost never reads books, and was disappointed that Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” wasn’t about the gilding in his Trump Tower apartment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Off topic Dave, did you tell me one time that senator Sherrod Brown’s wife was a friend of yours ? Anyways he is up for election next year challenged by a fool who tried once before. I read one of DT s economic adviser was a major donor last time. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

          • We did discuss perhaps in those HP days ?
            I need to send him some little money Dave, he is all we got in this OH.
            Gary Cohn “has known Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio, for years and has contributed to his campaign.
            I hope he does the same thing and shows 45 who`s the boss.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Sherrod Brown is definitely worth sending a little money to, bebe. I know Ohio (like New Jersey) has some pretty bad Republican politicians in office and who want to be in office.

              Gary Cohn was formerly with Goldman Sachs, wasn’t he? I’m always skeptical of people who worked for rapacious Wall Street firms like that. Heck, former NJ governor Jon Corzine is a Democrat but turned out to be pretty bad in various ways (as guv and after being guv) — no coincidence he used to work for GS.

              Liked by 1 person

  10. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite fictional works with a strong money aspect? —

    William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” is tantamount to a category killer in the annals of novelistic avarice, with Rebecca “Becky” Sharp setting such a standard that all other golddiggers in all other places at all other times should be paying her royalties whenever they attempt to steal her act. She would like that. A lot.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, J.J.! A comment so well-constructed I’d pay to read it. 🙂

      I should have remembered the great “Vanity Fair”! “Novelistic avarice” indeed, and, as you say, quite influential. For instance, Edith Wharton’s more-than-a-half-century-later “The Custom of the Country” certainly owes a debt (figuratively speaking) to “Vanity Fair.”

      Like

      • — Edith Wharton’s more-than-a-half-century-later “The Custom of the Country” certainly owes a debt (figuratively speaking) to “Vanity Fair.” —

        Please advise Edie to snail-mail her payments to Becky — with all checks made out to “Cash” — in care of my home address.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s