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Book Review No. 5: The Filthy Rich Handbook (How The Other .0001% Lives) by Christopher Tennant

Filthy HandbookThe Filthy Rich Handbook By Christopher Tennant (247 pages Workman Publishing: $11.95)

I ordered this book from Amazon years ago because the title intrigued me. I have always had this dream of becoming a billionaire someday through our family’s various businesses. Obviously, this is one delusion of grandeur I refuse to shake off. Despite my family’s considerable fortune, I still have a lot of things I wish to acquire: a castle in Ireland, a 740 Park Avenue apartment, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maybachs, a dozen Aston Martins, a Boeing 747, a 250-foot megayacht, an army of English butlers and majordomos to run various summer cottages in Newport, Paris and Palm Beach, a European aristocratic title, and the friendship of Serene Highnesses and of the British Royal Family.

But instead, for now, I have to make do with what I have. Don’t get me wrong. I am really happy and content with what I have. The things I want are different from the things that I need, and I have way more than what I need. But sometimes you just can’t help but feel a little  envious when you see someone have something you still can’t afford to buy at the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can afford to buy and sell someone like Kate Upton many times over and not even bat an eyelash?

Well, unless you are a billionaire or mega-multihundred millionaire, having a net worth below the neighborhood of $10, 000, 000 still won’t buy you the luxuries only the richest of the rich can afford — and Kate Upton. Or Chris Evans. These days, who knows what someone prefers.

Whether you’re looking for inspiration for that rich guy you wish to include as one of the characters in your novel, or doing some research about how the 1% of the richest 1% people live, or an arriviste who wants to be accepted by the establishment of the botoxed High Society and Ruling Classes, or in need of a crash course on how the ultra-rich talk the talk and walk the walk, or a social anthropologist or a social psychologist taking notes and chronicling how lazy leisure class lives, or just truly enjoy reading stuff about the ultra-rich, this reference book by Tennant has it all covered.

Here you’ll read about the Old Guard, the parvenus, Brahmans, the upstarts,  and the things they have in common, the fabulous places they summer at, the clubs they belong to, the servants who wait on them, the multimillion dollar palatial residences they live in, the parties they give and attend, and anything and everything about the oh so filthy rich.

Tennant shows chapter by chapter things like “Old Money [Country] Clubs” and “New Money [Country] Clubs,” which tycoon paid millions to which superstar singer for his daughter’s party, and which friends to avoid and be proud of. Funnily, He says Princess Diana is one of those people everyone should want to be friends with (sadly, this isn’t possible anymore), and that Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady and wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is one of those people everyone should never admit to having been friends with (this is still possible). I found the latter so hilarious, yet a little offended, too, because the Marcoses are related to one of my dearest friends, Mary Anne Vargas, a Manila socialite and philanthropist who loves the charismatic and regal former First Lady.

Mary Anne regaled me many times with anecdotes of the former First Lady’s eccentricities and charms. One time she said Mrs. Marcos was singing endlessly during one of her birthday parties in a yacht until the wee hours of the morning. She said everyone were already getting sleepy and wanted to go home, but everybody didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Marcos that they wanted to go home. Now, I wonder what Mary Anne will say about this when she finds out her cousin Imelda was mentioned in this book as a shoe fetishist who should be blackballed from the charity and social circuits. The Heiress

In this book, I think you will also find, like I did, the caricatures of the filthy rich people so charming and funny, along with pictures of random people where he illustrates what kind of clothes the filthy rich wear and what gadgets and different kinds of looks they sport. What also impressed upon me was his emphasis on the difference between the new rich and the old rich — the arrivistes and the blue bloods. I think this would generally help the uninitiated determine which ones are new and and which ones are old. One tip: the accent and how they pronounce Gstaad and the Carribean. Trust me, in every country, especially here in the Philippines, it’s easy to spot the parvenus from the pedigreed.

I hate talking about money and the describing wealth as it is crass and tacky to do that, but since this book is all about money and wealth, perhaps you’d be kind enough to make this an exception. Let me give you an example of the difference between the parvenu and the pedigreed. Well, I’d like to think of myself as a man of impeccable pedigree. Or maybe this is another of my delusions of grandeur I refuse to shake off, too.

One time a friend thought it funny to point out how one of our new rich friends was richer than me. To which I said jokingly with my quasi-British accent, “He may have the brass, but I have the class. You can never buy breeding and impeccable taste. He can hire someone to make it look like he has taste, but he can never acquire the breeding that only well-born people like me are born with. Unless he marries into our family, he can never have my name or my family’s illustrious background. He can show the world how rich he is with absurd and vulgar displays of wealth, whereas I have got nothing to prove.”

He laughed and replied, “Touche. Sometimes you can be such a snob.”

Part-satire, part-parody, and all the way true-to-life, Tennant’s well-researched book is one of those I would be happy to recommend to everybody even for just a good laugh. It’s got everything you need, and a veritable guide to anything and everything filthy rich. If you’re filthy rich enough, or with a stroke of luck you’ll strike it rich, or just want to know how and where to spend your money, or just curious as to how Bill Gates and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest live, Tennant’s The Filthy Rich Handbook is all the book you’ll ever need. This is one mean Rolodex of watering holes, country clubs, vacation spots,  tag prices for celebrity entertainers, and big bad toys that you should definitely have!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Review No. 4: The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett

The Uncoomon ReaderTHE STORY

The author of the Tony Award winner The History Boys, Bennett is one of the most prolific writers of England. With his novella The Uncommon Reader, he writes about how the Queen, the protagonist of the story, develops an obsession with reading when one Wednesday her playful dogs (corgis) lead her to a traveling library driven by Mr. Hutchings. Inside she meets Norman, a young palace kitchen staff who loves reading, and promotes him as her amanuensis to help her with her reading list. After being engrossed by the novels of Nancy Mitford, Her Majesty subsequently finds herself feverishly reading works by a wide array authors from Jean Genet to Marcel Proust. Consequently, the Queen begins to acquire a new perspective on everything, much to the consternation of her equerries and private Secretary, Sir Kevin. The Queen, after showing signs of no stopping with her uncharacteristic and sudden growing passion for books and for writing down notes, has had her advisers terrified lest she might be suffering from Alzheimer’s.

REVIEW

In my life there are two things that give me, of equal measure, the greatest pleasure: reading and writing. And nothing gives me even greater pleasure than reading about books that talk about the love of books, and then being able writing about it. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (First American Edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) is one such book–a book that celebrates books, writing, readers, and writers. In this book, Bennett’s protagonist, the Queen of England, becomes a passionate reader–a woman whose unique position in life does not afford her to have interests, but only to take an interest in things.

In the book, Bennett (the fictitious omniscient narrator of the book) explains that in royal circles reading is frowned upon because reading is seen as privately selfish, indulgent, and requires exclusive attention; that when one is royal, one has a duty to be selfless, patriotic, and accessible; and that there is no room for books, and most certainly, no room for a room–the library, study, or one’s own nook–where one can curl up and read.

One could detect a play on words in the novella’s title immediately. The Queen, if one is familiar with the British aristocracy, is not a commoner. After all, she is THE Queen–it couldn’t get more uncommon than that. The irony, however, lies in the fact that despite being a patroness of the Library of London and having hundreds of thousands of books in her own palaces and castles, the Queen’s obsession with reading began with a mobile library.

Queen Elizabeth II reading a speech for her subjects

Queen Elizabeth II reading a speech for her subjects

The book may be short, but the good thing about it is that it has a long list of references to extraordinary authors. For someone who hates being left out or being ignorant about books and authors that one ought to know, this book really makes you want to read about these other authors, too. The protagonist asks and talks about authors and writers such as Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, even Harry Potter (which she doesn’t like, of coure). 

In The Uncommon Reader, Bennett amplifies and solidifies my sentiments–that reading is shared, anonymous, and common yet private, elitist, and exclusive at the same time. In essence, what the book is trying to say is that reading, no matter how high or low one’s station in life is, is one activity everybody could share and enjoy. Bennett proves in this book that the Queen of England is also just like the rest of the world.

He paints the most eminent individual in all of England as a person who makes mistakes and feels jealous of movie stars like Lauren Bacall whom she thinks have lead a more colorful life than hers; as a person who thinks back on the past and sighs for not having met some people, especially authors, when she could have; as a person who is fallible, capable of envy, plagued with insecurities and regrets. too. He shows how the Queen, despite her old age, is not impervious to criticism from her own staff, and has also yet so much to learn about others through the life and experiences of the characters and the people in the books she reads. For someone who has lived a life on the grandest scale possible, Bennett effortlessly shows the unseen maternal and human side of his protagonist, the aging monarch–mostly ignorant of a life outside her own and entertaining thoughts of a life of ordinariness, anonymity.

A life outside the clutches of duty, responsibility, and royalty.

There is nothing common about The Uncommon Reader. For a royalist, a monarchist, a bibliophile, a writer, and an obsessive reader like myself, this book truly exceeds my expectations. Bennett’s characters couldn’t get any more human than in this book. My delusion of grandeur about being a British lord is now satisfied. Commoner though I am (well, everyone who doesn’t have a noble title is common), at least now, I can say that I have many things in common with the Queen of England,  the grandmama I never had, however fictitious my source of pride is.

Filled with charming, believable, and eccentric characters, and with a wonderful twist at the end, The Uncommon Reader is nothing short of beautiful. Whether you are common or uncommon, this book will surely delight you. Bennett’s a writer whose prose style is tantalizingly perfect. He is a consummate master of letters, and his deadpan, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor translates gloriously on every page. They say reading is bliss. This book is just that–a truly blissful read.

Rating:

5 of 5 stars

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