On Margaret Atwood, Debt, and Romantic Views on spending

Now that I’ve finished reading the Bible (a one-year project that I finished back in September), I’ve had so much more time to read other books.  I just read Margaret Atwood’s 2008 non-fiction book "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth."  First time I’ve read anything of hers and, frankly, I’m impressed.  I expected a slow boring overly-wordy read and got a gripping, humorous, only-slightly-too-wordy one.

The book examines debt as a construct of society and places it in a social context of humanity’s sense of ‘fairness.’  It takes a very light-hearted but still serious approach and approaches it from all angles, particularly literary and cultural. One of my favourite moments was the last chapter where she re-writes Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but abbreviated, set in the 21st century, and reworked to teach Scrooge some lessons in environmentalism and social democracy.  Not to mention the obligatory rare bird references.

My favourite individual quotation, though, was a paragraph in the second chapter that gave me this overwhelmingly romantic sense of what it SHOULD be like to live life within ones means.  I’ll end this entry with this picture that still resounds in my head.

My mother kept an account book for fifty years.  I notice that in the early years of their marriage – the late 1930s, the early 1940s – they sometimes went into debt – fifteen dollars here, fifteen dollars there – or took out small loans from the bank – fifteen dollars here, fifteen dollars there.  Not such small sums either, come to think of it, when the bread bill for the entire month was a dollar twenty and the milk bill was six dollars.  The debts are always paid back within weeks, or a few months at the latest.  Once in a while an odd item appears — "Book," two dollars and eighty cents; "Luxury foods," forty cents.  I wonder what the luxury foods were? I suspect they were chocolates – my mother told me that if they happened to come by any chocolates, they would cut each one in two so they could both sample all the flavours.  This was called "living within your means," and judging from the debt TV shows, it’s a lost art.

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