We work hard so we can take a vacation during the summer months. We might spend a week or two lolling about the beaches or hitting the trails through scenic parks and around mountains, straying far upstream from cars, crowds, and cell phones. Some of us stay home because we really can’t afford to go anywhere. Our free time rapidly fritters away like sifting sand in an hourglass. And yet, we are expected to read a book or two.
There is a pesky habit among large publishers to promote books during the summer months that are defined as beach books. New York City is still the capitol of America’s publishing industry—they call the shots and decide which books will be the Best New Books to Read This Summer. The book-scape this summer is awash in big rich beach books, novels about the uber rich.
In a recent NYT review of a big rich beach book*, the writer suggested that the uber rich might not be so different from all the rest of us. One character exclaimed, “Oh no! I left my Cartier bracelet in Lena’s BMW and she’s leaving soon for her grandmother’s house in Southampton!”
Big rich beach books serialize and trivialize the lives of the superrich to show how much they are capable of suffering, just like you and me. The recent wave of big rich beach books is intended to elicit our compassion and empathy. Yes, the uber rich are human beings who have problems too. But there is one important difference—the uber rich do not have to work for a living.
Anyone who has grown up in the New York City environs in the past forty years has seen the city’s seismic shift from serving the working classes to becoming a Mecca for the uber rich and their trust fund babies. The rising cost of housing has driven out the working classes. High rise luxury towers, called Designer Trash Cans, cast a spectacularly long shadow, blocking natural light from parts of Central Park. This long shadow is a powerful metaphor for the embarrassingly shocking mountain of wealth the uber rich enjoy without having to pay their fair share of tax.
People who work for a living are just trying to get by in the big city. Rest assured, the very poor are not so different from you or me. A third of Americans work as bus drivers, farmers, teachers, cashiers, cooks, nurses, security guards—they are the essential workers who we praised during the pandemic but forgot soon after. Essential workers are not officially counted among the poor, yet they live paycheck to paycheck, one step away from losing it all. It only takes a bad sequence of events: a health episode, coupled with the loss of a job, a few bounced checks, and a couple of months of late rent payments. Forget about taking that dream vacation. You can always soak up some sun and revel in reading books about the very rich.
Patricia Vaccarino writes books, articles, essays, and book reviews. She is currently working on a nonfiction book about musical talent from Yonkers, New York, and a collection of essays called Notes From The Working Class.