e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Reading backlog

I’ve finally started on a project that has been accumulating on my bookshelves for years – reading at least some of the books I bought and would read ‘some day’.

The most recent one I finished (some of them have turned out to be a waste of space) is Payback by Margaret Atwood, subtitled Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. It’s a current book, published in 2008.

It is not about debt management or economics. It’s about debt as a cultural feature deeply embedded in our society and in our minds. In fact she examines some recent work on other primates, who apparently also have ideas on fair play and balancing the books.

In the chapter on Ancient Balances she looks at mythology and the array of gods and goddesses concerned with what is owed to whom (or to the gods). Justice and her scales get in there along with the likes of Nemesis (whose name means ‘dispenser of dues’).

This chapter is followed by one on Debt and Sin, then Debt as Plot (as you’d expect from someone famous for her fiction). Then there is The Shadow Side, all about the horrible things that befall those who don’t pay their debts.

Finally there’s Payback which looks at both debtors and creditors and imagines how they can all come out of the whole thing smelling of roses – or not, depending on what they do.

As one expects from Ms Atwood it’s beautifully written and very detailed, and I found it riveting. Debt has a whole host of meanings which have trailed it through the ages in many ways unchanged.

I was unaware before that she writes non-fiction and I will definitely read more of it – more additions to my pile of ‘read some day’ books.


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4 thoughts on “Reading backlog

  1. Oh the bittersweet tensions of all those books you haven’t read (yet). I say ‘yet’, but there are some on my shelves that – if I’m honest – will never make it to the top of my ‘to read’ list. But they stay there because you never know, do you. One day, the right combination of spare time, mood and prevailing weather conditions might stimulate me to pluck it off the shelf and open it. And sometimes if you read a few sentences, you’re in.


  2. Many decades ago I bought books to read “some day.” Some day never came. Ultimately I sold the books in 1993 when I moved to San Diego. If I ever want to read them, I can probably find them at a library. I’m finished lugging books around.


    • Thank you for your comment. It’s very strong of you to get rid of all of them. I get rid of some every now and then, but still feel the need to keep hold of some of them. I suspect that ‘some day’ may never come for many of my books.


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