Yuppie Lit: Books About The Filthy Rich


Macy Halford recently wrote in the New Yorker‘s Book Bench that she happened upon the “hipster lit” section of Bookhampton while browsing in its Sag Harbor location. The shelves are loaded with the usual suspects: Bolaño, Hornby, and Rimbaud. In the comments section, a rep from Bookhampton gushes, “Bukowski and McSweeney’ [sic] as well as the ultimate female hipster Jennifer Egan (Visit from Goon Squad) and Patti Smith jumped off the shelves this morning… We just put them back!”

Sixty-three years after Anatole Broyard published “A Portrait of the Hipster” in Partisan Review, we are still arguing about what constitutes a hipster. Instead of another essay on the topic, we thought choose a different tack and encourage an alternate list for those Hamptons residents and fair-weather visitors who are sick and tired of their bookstores being invaded by scowling tight-jeaned youths and adults wearing plaid shirts. We came up with a list of novels with acceptable characters for the lily-white denizens of the land where people use “summer” as a verb and argue about ancestors who were on the Mayflower or about who is from “new” money. (South- and East Hampton, we’re looking at you.) What are your suggestions for a Yuppie Lit genre, dear readers?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick Carraway guides us through life in the fashionable East Egg during the Roaring Twenties in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. When Carraway visits Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s Georgian colonial mansion, he remarks on the view: “[Tom] moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half-acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide offshore.” How quaint.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In Amor Towles’s new novel, it’s Manhattan, 1938, and Tinker Grey is a handsome banker and sailing enthusiast who meets two lively ladies (Katey and Eve) at a jazz club in Greenwich Village. In the novel, Katey says, “In retrospect, my cup of coffee has been the works of Charles Dickens. Admittedly, there’s something a little annoying about all those plucky underprivileged kids and the aptly named agents of villainy.”

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Peter Harris is an art dealer who has just turned 44 and is stuck with his comfortable life. His wife, Rebecca, has a younger brother known as Mizzy (aka “The Mistake”), who ends up staying for an extended period with the couple, continuing to accept his sister’s money, and generally refusing to grow up. This is a great novel for those who view their family members as albatrosses and enjoy having their vanities exposed.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by David Herbert Richards Lawrence

What wealthy lady doesn’t think about how sex can sometimes be a chore, while secretly longing for unbridled passion? Which brings us to D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 risqué novel about a bored, wealthy woman who takes up a working-class lover. What’s more intriguing than reading a previously banned book about sexuality and class war? The website HipHamptons.com even references the novel with this bizarre twist: “We’ve all heard about Lady Chatterley falling for her gardener but how about Lord Chatterley? Certainly in the Hamptons women landscapers have blazed a blooming trail…”

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Lily Bart navigates the world of Gilded Age New York in this classic novel by Edith Wharton. “There was nothing new to Lily in these tokens of a studied luxury… mere display left her with a sense of superior distinction; but she felt an affinity to all of the subtler manifestations of wealth.” Eventually, though, Lily falls from grace as accusations fly about her being an adulteress. (If you can’t get enough of Wharton and love YA, try the Luxe series, which is billed as a mix between The Age of Innocence and Gossip Girl and might even become a movie).

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

In this 1891 novel a free-spirited young woman named Isabel Archer inherits a tidy sum of money following the death of her father. She moves from Albany to London to live with her aunt, and eventually falls for an egotistical American ex-pat who is an absolute jerk to her after they get hitched. Nb: marriage is a trap, ladies. (Especially when you’re wealthy.)

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

“I’m left with one comforting thought: I am rich — millions are not.” Patrick Bateman wears Valentino suits, Oliver Peoples glasses, and Ferragamo shoes and his pristine business cards are the envy of the investment banking world. All of his excesses are lovingly detailed in Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel about murder, necrophilia, and greed.

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

Adam and Cynthia Moreys are young and stupendously wealthy, but increasingly find solace only in each other as they move up the ladder. “It’s nice,” Marietta had said to her, “to have done so many favors for people in influential positions, so that they will then do this favor for you.”

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Dominique Francon, the heroine of the novel, buys an expensive statue of a sun god from a museum and throws it down the air shaft of her building so that no one else may lay their unsophisticated eyes on it, much less own it. Now that’s living large.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Like the hipster, the wealthy non-hipster also enjoys a fair amount of navel-gazing, especially if it’s paired with noblesse oblige. Miss Skeeter Phelan is writing a tell-all about race and privilege after graduating from Ole Miss and teams up with a black maid and cook in the early 1960s to bring serious issues to light in this novel. What socialite today doesn’t enjoy clucking his or her tongue while reading about racism (which is clearly in the past, by the way, now that we’re living in a post-race Obamarific world)?