The Financial Lives of the Poets
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The Financial Lives of the Poets

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  4,800 ratings  ·  940 reviews
Meet Matt Prior. He's about to lose his job, his wife, his house, maybe his mind. Unless . . .

In the winning and utterly original novels Citizen Vince and The Zero, Jess Walter ("a ridiculously talented writer"—New York Times) painted an America all his own: a land of real, flawed, and deeply human characters coping with the anxieties of their times. Now, in his warmest, f...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Harper
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Community Reviews

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Warning: The first part of this review consists of my idle musings on a topic that occurred to me while reading this book. If you don’t give a damn about that and just want to get on with the review, skip down.

Ever notice how it seems like the same idea start showing up in a variety of tv shows, films, or books at roughly the same time? I’m not talking about the straight-up rip-offs that appear when something like The DaVinci Code hits it big or when trends like vampires or zombies become hot an...more
Yeahhhh, not a fan. I dunno, it's decently written and decently paced and decently plotted, but it's kind of too much of those things, a little too slick and too pat and too gimmicky. It started out strong, but deflated pretty fast.

It's about a middle-class family in the throes of the mortgage crisis, who are about to lose their house. In a desperate last-ditch effort to get financially solvent, Dad (view spoiler). The way this comes about is pret...more
Aidan Watson-Morris

like i said, i'm apprehensive about getting books I've never heard of as gifts, because i'm terrified of letting people down, especially someone so thoughtful as to try & find a book that they think i'd like. but nope, i can't do this, so i'm going to confine my complaints to goodreads. although i don't have many specific complaints, i just thought that everything about this book sucked.

well, not everything. i couldn't finish it. i have three reasons for not finishing this & still...more
Greg Zimmerman
This is going to take some linguistic acrobatics. I'm going to spend the next 500 or so words trying to convince you that a story about bad choices, despair, near-financial ruin, and a failing marriage is one of the funniest, most charming, and downright best books you'll read in a long, long time.

Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets is fantastic — an authentic and timely story, featuring cameos from the mortgage crisis, the slow death of newspapers, and the increasingly intense cultu...more
Matt Prior is in trouble. He quit his job as a journalist to set himself up as a poet/financial advisor, with a website called “”. This idea is not as successful as he'd hoped it would be and when we meet Matt, he is a week away from losing his house. Not only that, he hasn’t told his wife about this potential disaster because they’re not communicating very well right now and he thinks she’s carrying on an online flirtation with an old flame. He’s searching for a way to keep his hom...more
Sam Quixote
A former financial journalist decides to branch out into a new, innovative field - financial news presented in poetic form! Unfortunately doesn't take off and leaves him with a mountain of debt. Couple that with his wife's eBay addiction, his weeks of unemployment, and the financial crash of 2008 and he soon finds himself 1 week away from eviction from his dream house. At a loose end one night, he encounters some stoners and begins to think about dealing weed to get out of his imme...more
I just fell in love with Jess Walter's "Beautiful Ruins", and I was really happy to see that he's been able to do his magic with this book too. The striking element in Walter's writing (in these 2 books at least) is his sense of humor, and that's where I see some readers not liking it because they just have a different sense of humor (or they just don't have one). I understand humor is a very personal thing.
However, while many "funny" books are just shallow, stupid, unfunny, or absurd, or very...more
Heard good things about this book and since it was "if you like that one, you'll like this one" book recommendation from what was my favorite read of last year, Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You," I thought I'd give it a shot. I can see why the books were grouped together as Tropper's Judd Foxman is in a similar mid-life-ish crisis/downward spiral mode as Matt Prior, whose life is in disarray after his dream of a financial poetry website (!) spectacularly crashes and bur...more
Caroline Bock
Do you ever read one book, usually a break-out book, from an author and wonder where did he/she come from? What else have they written? That was the case with me with Jess Walter. I read his recent Beautiful Ruins and loved it. So, I picked up The Financial Lives of the Poets (what a risky, terrifically provoking title) and loved it! It hits close to home -- a newspaper writer is laid off, on the brink of financial collapse, and on a late night excursion for over-priced milk for his two young so...more
Mark Womack
I liked it. I didn't care for it. I identified with the character. I didn't. Jess Walter's style is unique, and different from one book to another. It's consistent from one to another. See a pattern here? He makes you really care, and then you go "WAIT a minute!" I Literally AM about to be in a similar financial situation as the main character here, but I doubt I'd go 'on a 3 am adventure' like him with the same results. The story starts to soar, then,....(I know, REALITY,.. Well, yeah, but not...more
Seems to me that one's tolerance for this book is going to be directly proportional to how "winning" one finds the main character. At the 100-page mark, there's very little about him that I find appealing. To the extent that he is credible as a character at all, and not just an authorial gimmick that should have been strangled at birth, he is remarkably irritating.

Or maybe it's Jess Walter that is the real irritant. So far the author he most reminds me of is Neal Pollock, which - I hope I don't...more
Richard Russo, one of my favorite writers, was asked a while back to name some recent books he’d enjoyed. He rattled off a few titles then ended his list with “anything by Jess Walter.” I can see why. Walter is funny, writes as though it’s an easy thing to do, reveals what we recognize as true human nature, and creates characters who aren’t perfect, but you find yourself pulling for anyway. In other words, he’s a lot like Russo. This particular one may not reach the same heights as Citizen Vince...more
Mike Lindgren
Jess Walter's two previous novels—The Zero and Citizen Vince—showed him to be one of the finest novelists at work today. It's a bit of a letdown, then, to say that The Financial Lives of the Poets (awful title, by the way; the folks at Harper, as usual, clearly asleep at the switch) is a step sideways at best. The novel, which relates the misadventures of a downward-spiraling burgher named Matt, is a likable enough affair, with a soupçon of topical angst, but has little of its predecessors' zip...more
The first reason to read this book is because it's funny and you'll enjoy it. The author captures the dysfunctional actions and cadences of speech and thought across generations and genders.

But of course behind the humor (as is the case more often than not) looms the sad reality of life here and now, America in the 2000's, where citizens have bought into and been indoctrinated by consumer culture. Our lives are based on things, things we've gotten and lost, things we desire, things by which we j...more
I have to admit, a novel titled The Financial Lives of Poets is not something I would normally rush to read. Why would I care about finance and poets? But since people I respect raved about this book, I gave it a try.

I'm so glad I did! Jess Walter has written a dazzling story of a young suburban family in the throws of the national economic crisis that threatens not only their financial stability but their very existence as a family unit.

Matt left his job as a business writer at a newspaper to f...more
For everyone who put their faith in the American dream, the bubble that would never burst, this book is for them. Matt Prior – the desperate narrator of The Financial Lives of the Poets – is truly everyman…a basically good person who is now scrambling to stay marginally solvent in the wake of the huge financial crash.

Matt hasn’t had it so good recently: he left a dying career in journalism (in one of the most scathing and accurate indictments I’ve read about modern-day newspapers) to develop a w...more
Justin Evans
I honestly have no idea why people like this book. Why? Will someone tell me why? The whole thing can best be summed up by the fact that, while our protagonist is looking at a pile of lumber in his front yard his son says it looks like Jenga. This not only leads said character to cry because of how Jenga was once his son's favorite game, but also to *compare life to Jenga.* That's roughly the level of depth you're dealing with here. Since I can't understand what's meant to be good, I should at l...more
May 14, 2013 Paul rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Good god what a piece of garbage. This very-poorly-/misleadingly-titled book is about a guy who starts a website called, which features "financial lit," i.e. financial advice in the form of free verse. The narrator (first person, shockingly) does some work to defend the idea, while admitting that it "might" sound stupid, but it's unclear whether the author thinks the idea is ridiculous, which means the narrator is an absolute idiot, or if the author thinks there actually is somethi...more
My sister took some kind of American Fiction class and this was one of the assigned readings. It was lying around the house so I picked it up --this is definitely not the kind of book I would normally buy or even borrow from the library (white writer gets involved with some unsavory dealings--no thnx) but I realized that the novel had grown on me when I got excited that the protagonist was going to get out of his foreclosure by selling two pounds of weed.

I wish I had saved the book to read when...more
Laura Byrnes
This is the first time I've read anything by Jess Walter, and I really got a kick out of his self-deprecating, clever wit and ironic style. The main character's tragedy is played out like a comedy, and Walter captured the desperate financial times we now face. Our unemployed hero, Matt, heads out to a 7-11 one night to buy milk, but he makes one wrong turn in the throes of desperation. One wrong turn leads to another, and before he realizes what's happened, he is a fledgling, hapless drug-dealer...more
I read this solely based on the title. I had never heard of Jess Walter. It was odd, detailing the downfall of a man who gave up his journalism career to start a financial poetry website & and finds himself trying to about to lose his house & and his wife. There is actual poetry interspersed throughout & some of it has to do with weed.

It is funny, and the characters were well written. It seemed to try a little too hard at times to make a statement about the economy & the effects...more
M. D.  Hudson
I don’t read many novels, so I am not sure how to categorize this book– not genre exactly (it is not a knitting mystery, or a romance) – this is, I suppose one of those quasi-literary novels come out of American Lit’s vast buffalo plains of novelists who might teach creative writing on the side (like all the poets do) but still hold out hope for literary fame and fortune (aka “a movie deal”). Slick, yet it has vague literary pretensions (the main character is named Matt Prior, after a forgotten...more
Here’s a book I never would have chosen for myself in a million years, but which actually turned out to be better than I thought it would. The Financial Lives of Poets follows one week in the life of a middle-aged guy named Matt Prior. Matt lives somewhere in America with his wife, two young sons and senile father. Matt used to be a newspaper business writer, but he took a buy-out so he could start a website which would deliver financial advice through poetry. It’s no surprise that it flopped. A...more
I picked up this book because it had a glowing endorsement on the cover from several institutions I respect. Also, I had about 2 minutes to select a book and it was both brightly colored and on the display shelf at the library.

The book opens with our hero, Matthew Prior, near rock bottom. He's lost all his money in the financial meltdown. Also, he's pretty close to losing his house, and his wife. Things do not look good. And there's nothing like constantly impending disaster to keep you on the...more
Robert E.  Kennedy Library
This is an earlier novel by Walter, who wrote Beautiful Ruins. Ruins jumped from Italy to Edinburgh to Hollywood, from the 60s to the present. This one is solidly American in setting and themes, but no less entertaining The main character, Matt Prior, has given up his day job as a reporter to pursue a venture that sounds like a joke: a financial journalism website composed entirely in blank verse. Unfortunately for Matt, his wife, their two sons, and their mortgage (with its upcoming balloon pay...more
Reuben Alcatraz
A middle aged couple named gave(leant?) me this book at a new years party at my house (I guess they had it in their car?). They seemed like nice people, Beverly and Dennis, in fact, I just finished drinking the brandy they brought over for egg nog, so it pains me to see that they were demographically targeted and reeled in by Jess Walker, the ruthless and jaded carny charlatan who wrote this novel.

The story is some glued-together clockwork bauble about a middle aged journalist who blah blah blah...more
Jess Walter writes how I think; dialogue fast and racing, thoughts building upon one another like a giant game of Jenga, piling up dangerously and ending never anywhere near where they started.

Despite the relatively melancholy subject matter of his book The Financial Lives of the Poets (towering debt, unemployment, a wayward wife and a failed web site) there are dozens of laugh out loud moments, moments when you think Matthew Prior can't possibly make any more self sabotaging decisions. Yet he...more
Ed Howe
I wouldn't normally pick this book up to read, however, it was recommended to me by a friend. Thank God for friends. I will read just about anything that pertains to Poets or Poetry. This was unexpected though. What a creative commentary on the inner workings of our creative makeup. The book clearly shines as an evocative appreciation of the process that presides over our daily wrestling with the pressures of what we, as a culture and community, deal with on a minute by minute basis. It is almos...more
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Since finishing Infinite Jest almost 3 years ago, I have been searching for an author, a novel, a blurb, an ingredients list, anything, that would give me that same can't-wait-to-sit-down-and-read feeling that DFW's writing elicits. Ain't found a single piece of writing to do so... nothing. Some have come close (Irvine Welsh, Augusten Burroughs, maybe even Dave Eggers) but when a writer is able to make you laugh with every sentence, and then also somehow make you feel smarter, like you've grown...more
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Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe among many others.

His books:
Beautiful Ruins, 2012.
The Financial Lives of the Poets, 2009.
The Zero, a...more
More about Jess Walter...
Beautiful Ruins We Live in Water Citizen Vince The Zero Land of the Blind

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“(…) met the owner of this cozy book-and-candle Apt. G, a tall, leggy, striking girl named Bea or maybe just the letter B or maybe the insect Bee, not sure, her long blond hair pulled in a ponytail, her no-doubt banging body effortlessly buried beneath a pile of tights and sweaters and scarves – she is a walking coat rack – and as we shook hands, Bea fixed me with the most alarming blue-eyed stare of my life, the kind of stare in which you think some potent subliminal message is being passed along (Run away with me or maybe just Run away), (…)” 5 likes
“I don't know what I expected – no
maybe I do, Al Pacino from Scarface-
but this drug dealer is more like Al Pacino
at the beginning of The Godfather
reasonably bemused, untouched by his
criminal world, sitting with Diane Keaton
whispering about Luca Brazzi, not yet asleep
with the fishes, or like Al Pacino
from Glengarry Glen Ross, although actually,
now that I think about it, he's not
like Al Pacino at all but more like
Kevin Spacey from that film, and who's
ever been afraid of Kevin Spacey?”
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