Sunday, February 21, 2010


Instead of reading the book, I downloaded the audio and listened to the Massey Hall Lecture series Payback:  Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood. The content was originally delivered in a series of lectures, and besides, it was easier to download it from the iTunes store than go to the library.

This was Virginia's pick for the Book Babes.  I've been reading a lot lately and wanted to give my eyes a rest. The original idea was to make my daily commute more interesting and listen in on the subway on the ride home, but I gobbled up the whole series end-to-end on Sunday afternoon while I dusted & puttered around the house.

Atwood's voice is uniquely her own, whether printed on the page or spoken aloud. In Payback she examines literature, philosophy, history and environmental issues through the lens of debt.

I think my favourite was Lecture 5, when Scrooge Nouveau is visited by by Earth Day ghosts and repents his evil ways.  She manages to twist a view of history with a morality tale and presents some highly complex issues with accessible satire.
The Spirit of Earth Day Past takes him on a tour through history, where they discover how the Black Death, Irish Potato Famine and the Industrial Revolution created the economies of their time.  Earth Day Present takes him to the bottom of the sea where overfishing is destroying the ocean floor, to the Arctic where the thawing tundra is releasing immense clouds of methane gas.  "Can't you stop all this," moans Scrooge.  "International laws... are hard to achieve in this area because no one can agree on what's fair.... "  The worst offending countries often owe money to the richer countries, and much of the destruction is fueled by debt.   The combined income of the 25 million richest individuals on the planet is equal to that of the poorest 2 billion.  Earth Day Future first takes the form of a Cockroach before morphing into a Futures Trader, sharing an optimistic Green utopia driven by citizens who lent money to their governments and where the debts of poor nations have been forgiven.  Scrooge asks how probable this view of the future will be and we are not surprised when we hear the ghost's answer. But it is a more pleasing view than the world where everything has been turned into money, and there is nothing left to eat.
Here she is speaking with Alan Gregg about Payback:

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