Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of June 4th, 2007

“Of all the classes,” wrote John Kenneth Galbraith, “the wealthy are the most noticed and the least studied.” That’s certain to change as the latest, most fecund American “wealth boom” stretches into its second decade. Robert Frank’s Richistan (Crown, $24.95) is more of a peep show than a proper study, but it’s certainly entertaining. And appalling. Did you know that these days, among the wealthier millionaires, “affluent” is a derogatory term? It’s how the super rich refer to the merely rich.

The title of Emily Cockayne’s delightfully repulsive Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England (Yale, $35) leaves out some crucial information: the specific setting, which is urban England in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is a book about how one suffers in cramped city quarters with neighbors who stink and make noise and block your light, with pests and damp, with rotting food and open sewers. Neither rank nor money could entirely insulate the city dweller from the plague of nuisance caused by population density—to quote a contemporary adage, “Rich Men feel Misfortunes, that fly over poor Men’s heads.”

Reviewing Ian McEwan’s new novel for this issue of The Observer sent me back to grumpy Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15), where I reread with pleasure “Money,” a bitter lyric from High Windows. Here’s the first stanza:

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:

“Why do you let me lie here wastefully?

I am all you never had of goods and sex.

You could get them still by writing a few cheques.”

Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of June 4th, 2007