Summer Beach Reading: The Personal Finance Edition – New York Times

The protagonist, Anil Jha, 52, has been managing a technical training franchise and teaching computer programming on the side, enjoying a quiet life with his wife, Bindu, in a modest housing complex in East Delhi, India. He becomes wealthy overnight when he sells a website he created for what “felt like more money than was in the whole world,” the equivalent of $20 million.

He decides to move to “one of the richest new neighborhoods of Delhi.”

Worried that he does not have the trappings of success, Mr. Jha starts aping the lifestyle of a new wealthy neighbor, who, in turn, starts to study Mr. Jha’s lifestyle. A conspicuous-consumption race follows, and one character observes, “Only the rich claim that money can’t buy happiness.”

The financial lessons in the book are these:

1. True financial independence comes from starting a successful business (something not all of us can do).

2. Keeping up with the Joneses, or the Jhas in this case, is just silly. (And if the Jhas decide, in turn, to keep up with you, it becomes sillier.)

3. It is probably a good idea to periodically re-evaluate why you are trying to acquire wealth.

Paradise Lost

While Ms. Basu concentrates on upward mobility, Angelica Baker deals with what happens to the lives of the extremely rich when it all goes away.

Ms. Baker’s debut novel, “Our Little Racket” (Ecco, $27.99), centers on the downfall of an investment bank C.E.O. during the financial crisis of a decade ago, told from the perspective of three women in his life: his unfulfilled spouse, his teenage daughter and the nanny.




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Bob D’Amico — nicknamed Silverback (as in gorilla) — is trying to stave off allegations of wrongdoing as his poor decisions cause his firm, Weiss & Partners, to slowly disintegrate.

While his actions tarnish his own reputation, they have a big impact on the three women who lose status in Greenwich, Conn., the New York City suburb where the D’Amicos have their primary home. (They own three others.) Gossip spreads, rumors fly and the three women are forced to fend for themselves in the wake of Weiss & Partners’ death spiral.

The financial lessons:

1. Live within your means.

2. Make sure you have adequate liquid reserves to cover an emergency. (The family is forced to auction off its art collection to pay the bills.)

3. Diversify your holdings. The family is overly invested in both real estate and the stock of Mr. D’Amico’s failing company.

This Magic Moment

For pure escapism — literally, since some of the characters have the ability to leave their bodies and fly about — there is “Spoonbenders” (Knopf, $27.95), by Daryl Gregory, who is also author of the novel “Afterparty.”

In his new book, a down-on-their-luck family battles two sets of issues simultaneously. On the one hand, each member is trying to come to grips with being “blessed” with extrasensory powers (the ability to see the future; telekinesis; pyrokinesis and the unfailing facility to tell if someone is lying).

On the other, the entire family is fending off:

The government, which wants them to become superspies.

The mob, which wants its money back because one of the family members (in a remarkable lack of foresight for a psychic) has been borrowing heavily from them as he tries unsuccessfully to become an entrepreneur.

A psychic debunker, “a short bald man with a ridiculous black handlebar mustache,” who is out to prove they are all frauds.

The writing is crisp and frequently clever. (“They piled into Irene’s Festiva, a car that won the award for most ironic distance between name and driving experience.”) And after the bleakness of Ms. Baker’s novel and the ambiguity in Ms. Basu’s, this one has a classic happy ending.

The financial lessons:

1. Read financial documents carefully. One of the characters works, briefly, at a sleazy company that dupes its customers into signing away control of their investments so that the firm can churn their accounts.

2. Get-rich-quick schemes invariably fail or are outright fraudulent.

3. Don’t borrow from the mob.

Enjoy the summer.

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Summer Beach Reading: The Personal Finance Edition – New York Times}