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Finance in Fiction, Fiction in Finance

Interesting post here by Elizabeth Minkel at the book blog of The New Yorker, which touches briefly on the dearth of fiction about the world of finance, but more prominently about the lack of serious reading within financial firms. The first point is hardly surprising, given how rarely fiction meaningfully involves the workplace in general, which is probably one reason that rare novels like Joshua Ferris' Then We Came To The End, which was set in a dying ad agency, continues to generate such an outpouring of attention. (The book is on my shelf, awaiting my reading. I'll probably get to it this year, though Julie didn't think much of it.)

The second point - that finance people aren't readers - comes as no surprise either. Finance (at least the government-regulated variety) mostly rewards conventional thought and conformity, as well as a lavish devotion to the business press - fiction is seen as a superfluous trifle that almost nobody can make any money off of. I've worked at a commercial bank (decidedly not Wall Street, especially not in terms of compensation) for the past four years, and I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen here with novels. And not even a full hand-worth of fingers: one older, bearded guy (since terminated, not for his reading habits but a shoddy work ethic) who always seemed to be carrying cheap paperbacks back and forth between his desk and the breakroom or (ewww) the men's room; and a younger guy who was occasionally seen waiting for an elevator at the end of the day, with a fat crime novel in hand for the train ride home. And though one woman used to spend her lunch break in an empty office with her Kindle, I haven't seen her do so lately, the workload having seemingly overwhelmed her. Other than those isolated sightings, the only books I've seen are motivational pulp and sales-technique manuals. Somewhere there are probably still a few copies of Jack Welch's autobiography around, buried in the dusty back corners of credenzas since the last century.

And if readers are rare, writers are almost completely non-existent. When I first started working here, the entire office had an offsite meeting which included each new employee introducing themselves and, among other things, telling something unique about themselves. I gave my name, position, department and previous employer, then disclosed that I wrote fiction. The gathered looked at me with bemused curiousity, as if I said I raised peacocks in my spare time. Safe to say there's no paper-pushing Kafkas present, nor anyone who even reads Kafka. Except for me, that is. Not that I'm literally Kafka, of course, or ever will be - though I guess I am, comparatively speaking, relative to my colleagues.

January 25, 2011 in Books | Permalink

Comments

I was lukewarm about the Ferris novel. Glad I read it, but I'll never likely pick it up again, nor will I seek our any of his other stuff.

I'm in a similar work situation, although we do have a "bookshelf" where employees can leave their cast off books for other workers to enjoy. Most of the stuff is gothic romance, Oprah books, suspense, horror. I would never reveal to any coworker that I write. They might respect it, but they'd have expectations, and they'd want me to write something of this or that event. Ugh!

Posted by: Paul at Jan 25, 2011 5:40:45 PM

As the "resident writer" in my office, I'm always getting rewarded by being "volunteered" to write shit because the rest of the clowns I work with can't write at all, including our new ED; my former director, a wonderful man to work for, was a former college dean, a "recovering academic," as he liked to say, who had his Ph.D in English. He respected my abilities as a writer and didn't presume that I wanted to be our organization's staff writer.

Banks and HR departments have some of the least intellectually curious employees, at least based upon my own experience with both.

I've learned the hard way not to acknowledge that I'm a writer. I no longer get the usual, "I know I've got a book in me" crap from wannabes.

Posted by: Jim at Jan 25, 2011 7:24:33 PM

I loved the Ferris novel. I thought it was well-written and funny.

I almost never tell people that I (want to) write. In my experience, this invites a lot of trite "how's the novel going/when can I read it/when " remarks that I don't know how to respond to.

Posted by: Brandon at Jan 27, 2011 11:02:39 PM

I really wish some good writer would do a novel or stories about a hedge fund. Nick Antosca is a great writer, and he used to work at D.E. Shaw, but I don't think he's yet written fiction about that world. My cousin and godson is a director at a hedge fund, and I think it's really interesting.

Louis Auchincloss, the great writer who died recently, wrote what were probably the best novels and stories about white-shoe Wall Street law firms (I used to work, very briefly, in the library of Sullivan & Cromwell). I'd like to see someone like him in finance.

So far the best I've seen in very old: the play back in the day "OPM (Other People's Money" and that is by now a long, long time ago in the world of finance.

Posted by: Richard at Jan 29, 2011 1:29:20 PM