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new england literary news | Nina MacLaughlin

Finding heart in finance, sources of inspiration

Finding humanity in finance

It’s a cold word, finance, one that conjures stereotypic images of buttoned-up, avaricious I-bankers spouting indecipherable lingo. In his new book “The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return’’ (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Harvard business professor Mihir Desai has tried to give finance a beating heart, to humanize it by viewing it through the lenses of literature, art, philosophy, music, movies, and TV.

Desai agrees that the field can be high technical. But examining it through examples drawn from the humanities makes concepts like risk and return, corporate governance, bankruptcy, and valuation easier to grasp. It also forces people to think about financial activity “through a moral lens.”


Take, for instance, Alexandra Bergson in Cather’s “O Pioneers!’’ and her strategy to save the family property during a crisis: “Her complex financing plan, which involves mortgaging the homestead, features debt service payments well into the future that will only work if she’s right about the future of land prices.” What makes her admirable, Desai argues, is that her scheme is not just to build wealth but stems from “her deepest relationships with close friends and family.’’ Those familiar with the world of finance will have their perspective shifted, and for the rest of us, Desai provides a welcome entry.

Inspiration illustrated

Inspiration’s a wily creature, and many turn to their heroes for that nudge to make their brains move in new and better ways. Where and how children’s book illustrators locate their inspiration is the focus of a new exhibit organized by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Opening May 23 and running through Nov. 26, “Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and Their Heroes” gathers a number of illustrators who were asked the question: Who sparked you to become the artist you have become? For Willems, the answer is the “Peanuts’’ strips of Charles Schulz, particularly the way he uses all caps letters to express emotion; for DiTerlizzi, Brian Froud’s “Faeries’’ served as an example of what he wanted to achieve. Nineteen contemporary illustrators are included in the exhibit, including Sandra Boynton, Yuyi Morales, Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Jerry Pinkney, Marla Frazee, and others.


Hoffman Center benefit

Back in 1999, Boston best-selling author Alice Hoffman donated the advance for her book of intertwined short stories “Local Girls’’ (Putnam) to help start the Hoffman Breast Center at Mount Auburn Hospital, where she received her own cancer treatment. On Monday evening at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge Hoffman will host Pink Pages, an event to benefit the center, pulling together some beaming literary lights. Arts critic and cancer survivor Joyce Kulhawik will emcee, and authors include ZZ Packer (“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere’’), Diane Ackerman (“One Hundred Names for Love’’), Geraldine Brooks (“March’’), Andre Dubus III (“House of Sand and Fog’’), Elin Hilderbrand (“The Island’’), Ann Hood (“The Knitting Circle’’), and David Baldacci (“The Innocent’’). Tickets range from $300 for an individual; $500 for a VIP ticket which includes a meet-and-greet with the authors, up to $25,000 for 10 people for the event and author mingling.

Pick of the week

Marisa Neyenhuis of the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vt., recommends “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet’’ by Reif Larsen (Penguin): “When twelve-year-old genius cartographer T.S. Spivet receives an unexpected phone call from the Smithsonian announcing he has won the prestigious Baird Award, life as normal (if you consider mapping dinner table conversations normal) is interrupted and a wild cross-country adventure begins, taking T.S. from his family home just north of Divide, Mont., to the museum’s hallowed halls.”


Coming out

“Isadora’’ by Amelia Gray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Chemistry’’ by Weike Wang (Knopf)

“Class’’ by Francesco Pacifico (Melville House)

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.