Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor
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Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  455 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Tad Friend's family is nothing if not illustrious: his father was president of Swarthmore College, and at a Smith college poetry contest judged by W. H. Auden, his mother came in second-to Sylvia Plath. For centuries, Wasps like his ancestors dominated American life. But then, in the '60s, their fortunes began to fall. As a young man, Friend noticed that his family tree, f...more
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Published June 1st 2010 by Findaway World (first published September 2nd 2009)
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It's interesting that so many of the goodreads reviews about Cheerful Money are ambivalent. I liked so much of this book, and then I thought "Big whoop" about a lot of it. A lot of what Friend characterizes as "Wasp" is just a sad family dynamic. But also clearly a loving family as well. In short, families that are families. I read it because I have a big girlcrush on Amanda Hesser, the NY Times food writer and founder of Food 52 web community, and Tad Friend's wife. I'm glad that I did read it...more
This book was alternately entertaining and bewildering. The author is a WASP, and the book is about how the WASPs are a dying breed. (No, this is not the same thing as when the bees died because of cell phones.)

It truly takes a WASP to believe that WASPS are a dying breed. (The author thinks the new-economy-internet-types are the new power players in the country.) Take a look around your company's board of directors and tally up how many of them are WASPS. Take a quick look at Congress and see h...more
Michael Rymer
This review originally appeared on the literary website, The Second Pass:

It would be possible to make three good, small books of Cheerful Money. Not that I’m suggesting anyone chop it up with a kitchen knife, as Janet Malcolm did to The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein. I’d just like to imagine the book, for a moment, in three bindings rather than one, with the history of Tad Friend’s family, Friend’s reading of WASP culture, and his memoir of his own life — the three stories mixed together...more
sad to say, i didn't really "get" this book. mary karr (an author i like quite a bit) gave it a good blurb, but i apparently failed to see what she saw. it was not "side-splittingly" hilarious, & mary karr is no WASP, so supposedly you don't have to be one to understand the humor. maybe you have to live in new york? not sure.

this is basically just a family memoir. i can only assume it got published because friend writes for "the new yorker" & has plenty of publishing contacts, because i...more
Bob Simon
A very funny, and engrossing field guide to Eastern WASP culture. It explains a lot of what I saw and failed to understand in several decades of marriage within that world...but certainly not born to it. It is neurotic, historical, idiosyncratic, and revealing. Treated as a Lonely Planet guide, used after you have visited the country, it is also useful...if, perhaps, slightly out of date.

Friend's tone feels like those late night bullshit sessions in college...the ones where you get down to it,...more
A very entertaining book about the "old" money class and how they are or are not, just like the rest of us. The author's families are from "old" money and with that comes a certain presitige along with certain expectations. My view is that they are rapidly becoming a dying breed. The old money has been eaten up by multiple generations and anything that is left has drastically shrunk in value by the 21st century. I, personally, am sorry to see them go. They have been replaced by the nouveau riche...more
This is an incredibly difficult book to rate as it is written well (the author doesn't write for The New Yorker for no reason), but the subject itself was at times tedious.

Tad Friend is a self-proclaimed WASP from a long lineage of WASPs, and is at once both disturbed by and proud of it. His memoir discusses what it means to be a WASP (not to be confused with a "prep" which is detailed in one of the chapters), and the first half of the book that investigates this lifestyle is fairly interesting...more

It was the clever title that roped me into reading this book. “…Last Days of Wasp Splendor,” had me hoping. Unfortunately, the title turned out to be the best part of this confusing and rather dull story.

Despite his enviable, world-class vocabulary and his obvious facility with words, Tad Friend’s pretentious memoir: ‘Cheerful Money: Me, My Family and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor’ falls short of being entertaining or interesting. Only Chapter Four: Sand, and its stories about,...more
This book is really hard for me to rate. I'm afraid I can't agree with many of the illustrious blurbs on the back cover--I didn't find it stunning or especially moving, and I didn't find it funny, humorous OR hilarious, as it was variously called. Graydon Carter said it "goes down like a bittersweet late-summer cocktail made with a jigger of Cheever and a splash of Wodehouse." Now this is an unbearably awesome phrase, and I am pining to drink...I mean, read such a book; I just didn't find it her...more
Some great observations and anecdotes, and I kept on sending excerpts of passages to friends. But I think the NY Times review is right that at times the book feels a bit too crowded, making it difficult to keep track of all of the family members he describes, and that sometimes the wasp theme can be oppressive and get in the way of natural storytelling flow. Some of my favorite parts were his descriptions of the women in his life, particularly his mother--a Smith grad always contending with Sylv...more
I'd like to thank Tad Friend for saving me tens of thousands of dollars on psychoanalysis. His heartbreaking, yet hopeful memoir of growing up Wasp has shed a crystalline light on so much of my own upbringing and experience. While I won't agree with Mary Karr's characterization of Cheerful Money as being "side-splittingly funny," I did unearth a fresh reserve of good humor to which I will turn the next time I visit my own Wasp hell.

Cheerful Money is witty, poignant and reassuring, but ultimatel...more
I'd describe this book as "engrossing" -- every time I'd pick it up I'd have to force myself to stop. (However, ignore the blurbs on the back about it being "side-splittingly funny", because unless you find repression and resentment and detailed explanations of everyone's inheritances hilarious, it's not.) But it's very enjoyable, and the author likes to throw around his fancy vocab words, so it was like getting a free SAT review. Mumchance! Adumbrate! Asseverate!
I waffled whether to give this a three or a four star rating. It was part family history, part memoir, part social history of one of the most fascinating aspects of our country, the decline of the WASP. I loved the historical parts. What a weird subgroup! Wasps so dominated our country for most of its history, and according to this book, started a steep decline around the 1960s. Today it's so funny to me to think about Wasps still kicking in the same way they used to. I will say, despite their r...more
I can't decide what I think about this book, when I started it I almost quit, I found it maddening. I thought the writing was constipated, pretentious, self-important, snobbish. Maybe I am constitutionally not the right person to be reading this. I had thought it would be interesting to get an insider's view of the uppercrust. Sometimes I feel like it's all a bit of a stretch, though. Like it's his master's thesis, trying to prove that there is some kind of WASP way of being and he's going to pi...more
It was somewhat reminiscent of my own upbringing - certain notes were very familiar; and I laughed out loud at some parts that particularly resonated.

I was bugged by his need for psychoanalysis. I suppose he didn't make the point well enough for me empathize. I felt he was petulant and foolish for wasting so much money in treatment because at no point in the book did I find his mother to be unfeeling and "not love him". Blech. There was one moment where he notices that she "seems to seek praise...more

So I picked this book up on a whim at the library because I liked the title and the cover. Even though this is a memoir, the title sort of led me to believe there would be more talk about the situational factors of the WASP existence, the links to anti-semitism, etc, but there wasn't. In the end I'm glad that's not what this book was about. The book sort of meanders, using his mother's death as both the starting and ending point, and I liked that he eschewed traditional memoir linear structure....more
Almost but not quite a marvelous book. The author, whose distinguished lineage was drilled into him from Day 1, dissects the curious, repressed, and sometimes alcoholic generations immediately preceding him. His writing is brilliant,often hilarious. The cast of characters is huge. When WASPs marry they naturally include all the well-bred relatives from both the maternal and paternal sides in the family. More confusing is the constant repetition of names and nicknames down through the generations...more
Having grown up on the west coast and not being white, I found this book super informative. If I had a time machine I’d take this book and give it to the highschool me with instructions to read it before picking up Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye.

It’s an unusual memoir for a number of reasons. The structure is non-linear and, unlike most memoirs, doesn't come with a clear, embedded sense of direction. What I mean is, an addiction memoir will always be about the development of the addiction and th...more
Despite Mary Karr's blurb that describes this book as side-splitting -- there's no hilarity here. And despite the title, there's not a lot of cheerfulness in this book -- nor for that matter money or splendor (not in this generation, anyway). And there's a little too much family -- multiple marriages and step-parents, children, stepchildren, and cousins (I got tired of trying to keep everyone straight --- and wasn't going to keep flipping back to the family tree provided....). In Friend's experi...more
Cheerful Money was a re-read of sorts. I detested it the first go round and made it only 1/3 of the way through before tossing it aside. I'm not quite sure what motivated me to read it again, but I am glad that I did. I got the sense that Tad Friend was on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism for what was a less than glowing portrait of his family, but I have to say that it was a poignant, moving tribute to his family. It was not written through rose-colored glasses but with a glaring,...more
I picked up this memoir at McKay's because I love memoirs and I really enjoy Tad Friend's writing for the New Yorker. And it's a good memoir and reflection about what it means to be a WASP in America today. Okay, but the nicknames are ridiculous. Not the names themselves, but the way every person in the book is referred to by two or three separate names depending on who's talking. Also, while Tad is introspective and candid you can also tell that he doesn't know what he doesn't know... like what...more
Catherine Schmidt
I received this book in a holiday book exchange for my book club. I started to read this book three times, actually finishing it on the third attempt. I hate to leave books unfinished, and yet, I was very tempted to, even with this third and final try.
This is essentially an upper class family memoir. Lots of name dropping, vacations, second homes, marriages and money. Also, a great deal of dysfunction.
Just as with any family, there are some very funny stories, drama and scandals. It was the pro...more
like Tad Friend's NYer stuff & read the piece he did that lead to this book, but...
maybe my own Albion's Seed background influences, but along towards the finish began to feel annoyed. The circular looping through time certainly captures his own experience- of learning certain facts as a child & then finding the addendum as an adult-- but within this review i couldn't help but wonder how the various intimate companions over the years feel about being props in the discussion. Guess all of...more
I meant to read Cheerful Money upon its release and somehow it slipped through the cracks. I was reminded of it recently when it was referenced by the authors of The Triple Package. I really enjoyed Cheerful Money. I like Tad Friend's writing style and this is an interesting and often humorous look at WASP life.
Bookmarks Magazine
Critics' explanations of Cheerful Money's appeal were as subtle as one of the intricate social rituals the book describes. Friend is a child of privilege, yet his emotional earnestness and somewhat elegiac tone more than make up for readers' potential resentment. His book is a flight from his WASPish past, yet in its thoroughness, it also constitutes a kind of defense of WASPs' peculiar culture. In any case, even reviewers who seemed to read Cheerful Money with something of a sneer admitted that...more
A very engaging memoir by a writer who is the direct inheritor, on all four sides, of haute-Wasp genes. Humorous in spots but at bottom profoundly sad--the frequency of mental breakdowns, parental abandonment, suicide, and alcoholism in the families is striking--this book is best in its accounts of Friend's parents and various older relatives. His own journey to live a more emotional and spontaneous life than the Wasp ethos teaches or recommends is interesting but a little less vivid. For us cur...more
A book I picked up for a snarky evening read turned into the anthropological field map I've spent 5 years sub-consciously hunting for. A thoroughly enjoyable, trenchant and half-intimate examination of a recovery from and/or reclamation of a Wasp upbringing. Friend articulates the ethos of Waspiness in a way that I found easy to digest, offering countless personal (and arresting) anecdotes along the way. Sure, large cast of characters and some high Victorian turns-of-phrase, but they belong in a...more
Worth my while simply for the number of times I said "I'm reading a book about Wasps...not the insect, the people" and my friends rolled their eyes at me and said "obviously." And it's a good read, especially if you're the type of person who would read a book like this.
This was a great book that was perfectly happy to explore complicated themes about class and its effects in an introspective and compelling way. Throughout, Friend maintains a commitment to honesty, at once embracing certain elements of his WASP heritage as he simultaneously critiques them. At times, each chapter of the book read a bit too much like a New Yorker article. However, the way he uses this structure to effectively explore themes and travel back and forth throughout time probably makes...more
Christine Frank
Like another reviewer, I take exception to Mary Karr's blurb that says this book is "side-splittingly funny." This comment is so far off that I think it should be removed in subsequent printings. It is NOT funny at all, and my sides remain intact after reading it. Did we read the same book?

I was very grateful for the family tree in the front matter, but it didn't help me keep track of who was who.

It is beautifully written, though, and the timing is good, as the country's demographic changes are...more
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Tad Friend is a staff writer at "The New Yorker," where he writes the magazine's Letter from California. Prior to joining the magazine, in 1998, he was a Contributing Editor to "Outside" and "Esquire," among other magazines. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Amanda Hesser, and their twins, Walker and Addie.
More about Tad Friend...
Planet Killers: A Spine-Tingling Look at Near-Earth Objects, Mass Extinctions, and the Controversial Science of Planetary Defense Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor

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