Sunday, January 18, 2009


I just finished Margaret Atwood's Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth for book club. I'm a big fan of Atwood, I love her short stories, her poems, her novels, I've even read a kid's book she wrote. This is the first non-fiction book of hers I've read (I was sort of shocked to see all the non-fiction she's written - I thought I had read all her work) and I really (surprise!) loved it.

What Atwood's written is a lecture - an argument - about debt. How it came to be (shortly followed by the invention of language, to keep track of transactions), how money and debt are conceptual and theoretical (a point not unclear to those of us who are watching the financial crisis playing out right now.), what it means to carry debt (throughout time). Atwood is thorough - she writes: humans have debt... now, what is a human? The only reason debt is possible is because we have an innate sense of fairness. And then she'll list half a dozen examples of how children (and monkeys!) seek fairness.

She does a rather in-depth analysis of The Mill on the Floss, which I just read last year. I thought her reading of the book in relation to debt was spot on. I was less enraptured by her frequent returns to the story of Scrooge - I'm not a big Dickens fan.

It was exciting to talk about the book with some folks who haven't read Atwood before and I hope that we've hooked a few more fans!

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