It Is Always The Same Novel

The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded this morning to a French author by the name of Patrick Modiano. Modiano has written more than 20 novels, with the first one published in 1968.

What I found interesting about his story is that he said he is “always writing the same book.” Here’s more:

Modiano says that like every other novelist he is always writing the same book, ‘on fait toujours le même roman.’ (translation: it is always the same novel) Modiano more than most, perhaps. The mania for looking back is always there. His characters collect shreds of old evidence, handwriting, photographs, police files, newspaper cuttings. They follow the footsteps of vanished people, snooping on the world of others like unemployed private detectives who can’t find anything else to do. They have what I take to be Modiano’s own interest in Paris streets, particularly those of the outskirts, and they ceaselessly list addresses, consult old directories, make calls to telephone numbers no longer in service.

I was instantly reminded of Jason Zweig’s now-classic piece entitled Saving Investors from Themselves that was written last summer. It’s one of my all-time favorite investment articles because it cuts to the heart of good financial advice:

I was once asked, at a journalism conference, how I defined my job. I said: My job is to write the exact same thing between 50 and 100 times a year in such a way that neither my editors nor my readers will ever think I am repeating myself.

That’s because good advice rarely changes, while markets change constantly. The temptation to pander is almost irresistible. And while people need good advice, what they want is advice that sounds good.

I had dinner last week with a fellow financial writer and we talked about the fact that sometimes it feels like we’re constantly repeating ourselves in our message. The more I thought about this the more I realized that some people need to hear a similar message over and over again to cut through all of the noise that’s out there. I need to hear good advice on a consistent basis to keep my own behavior in check.

Zweig’s message is a great reminder since it’s so easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the markets and your own financial situation. The markets are constantly evolving and will continue to do so in the future.

But the truly useful and sound investing principles will always stay the same.

Nobel Prize for Literature Goes to French Author Patrick Modiano (Atlantic)
The Intelligent Investor: Saving Investors From Themselves (WSJ)



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  1. Glen Hetherington commented on Oct 10

    Hi Ben

    I have two or three blogs and sites I visit when the confidence in my conviction wanes. Not to sound too glib but I already pretty much know what the people at these sites are going to say but reading what they have to say yet again reinforces my conviction and assists me in staying the course.
    Thanks for helping me stay the course.


    • Ben commented on Oct 10

      Thanks Glen. This reminded me of a Mark Twain quote:

      “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

      Habit is all about repetition so I think drilling into your head a similar message over and over again is actually helpful. I’m the same way with some of my sources of advice. I have an idea about their message but it still helps to hear it to reinforce good habits and beliefs.