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The Financial Lives of the Poets

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  10,083 ratings  ·  1,424 reviews
The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Harper (first published 2009)
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I recall standing in Seattle's Queen Anne Bookstore on a rainy late autumn afternoon in 2009, reading the jacket of this book and ultimately, passing. I wasn't familiar with Jess Walter, although this book seemed to be making quite the splash. I was, however, all too familiar with the effects of the global recession and I just wasn't ready to find it funny. Nope. Not yet. In fact, that very bookstore became one of its casualties a few years later.

Fast-forward into a new decade. Jess Walter has
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit, humor
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
Ɗẳɳ  2.☊
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: humor
With all of those Breaking Bad/Weeds comparisons in Kemper’s most excellent review, I had rather high hopes for this one. And that opening act did little to dissuade my enthusiasm.

“Here they are again—the bent boys, baked and buzzed boys, wasted, red-eyed, dry-mouth high boys, coursing narrow bright aisles hunting food as fried as they are, twitchy hands, wadding bills they spill on the counter, so pleased and so proud, as if they’re the very inventors of stoned.”

And here he is, Matt, your
Tom LA
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg Zimmerman
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Betsy Robinson
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If I were a publisher, I’d fight to publish Jess Walter. He writes funny literary commercial novels with mass appeal, and I’m happy to be part of his adoring public.

The Financial Lives of Poets is my fourth Walter book, and my favorite so far: Unemployed business journalist and American Dream-addict Matt Prior’s downward spiral into inept drug dealing is not dark, because he’s so honest about his desperation and idiot attempts to save his and his family’s behinds. I loved everybody in this book,
3.5 rounded up.
This is a novel about a family and in particular a husband and father who loses his job during the mortgage crisis of 2008. Remembering and reading about the struggles of that time not so very long ago reminded me of how difficult times (like now) both financially and emotionally seem to come in waves and that problems never occur in a vacuum but breed others big and small. This might seem a depressing topic but watching the narrator look at and try to find ways of coping (both g
Sam Quixote
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Steven Godin
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
After a doomed website venture unemployed finance journalist Matt Prior is on the verge of losing his home, his wife(who suspects she is having an affair) and probably his sanity,all while trying to look after his two young boys and a senile father who just wants to watch tv,but then stumbles on a change to become a short term drug dealer with what he thinks is a way to make some easy money,but of course things don't go according to plan.This was a nice easy read and had some great comic and hea ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jess Walter has, in short shrift, become my single favorite contemporary author. I was first introduced to his work through his contribution to the series of short stories in the Amazon Warmer cli-fi collection, where he was absolutely brilliant. This innovative novel has only solidified my fan status.

The Financial Lives of the Poets opens with an introduction to Matt, an out-of-work journalist fresh off of a failed business attempt to meld poetry and financial articles in an online format—and i
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2010
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
Justin Evans
Aug 31, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
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
Caroline Bock
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Yes, that's right. Five stars. Five.
I loved this. I read it in one happy sitting, laughing out loud - literally, out loud - or just marveling at the wonderfulness.
The premise is something close to my heart - the financial disaster, or to be more precise, the greed of the American Dream that caused a living nightmare - and combining, intriguingly enough, poetry. Love it!
The book's narrator is your classic victim of banking on mortgages and credit only to fall splat when everything goes under, and
Oct 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I really loved Citizen Vince, and was slightly less enamored of The Zero. But Walter is up to his old tricks in ...Poets. What a goofball! He had me snorting with runaway laughter...everything is on the skewed side of perfectly possible...sort of like trying to reason with someone who's smoked too much pot. Their mind rotates, quickly at first, in smaller and smaller circles, until they reach some inevitable stupid conclusion, much like the protagonist in this book. Gets his life in a twist and ...more
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I have found that Jess Walter is an author many readers are not familiar with - Acquaint yourself with him. He's an excellent writer but he is difficult to categorize by genre. He's written two non-fiction book and five novels - which range from mysteries to satire. With his writing he's able to transport the reader to situations so real that it'll give you chills. For instance in an earlier novel - Land of the Blind - he captures the difficult times of junior high so effectively that my stomach ...more
Carla Stafford
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Matt Prior is/was a newspaperman in recession times when newspapers had begun sinking torturously one by one. After losing his job at the paper, he took an unfortunate, yet creatively ballsy risk on a poetry site that gave financial advice...We meet Matt when he is on the brink of losing his house to foreclosure and his wife to an online affair with her high school boyfriend. Sounds hilarious, right? But somehow, Financial Lives of Poets manages precisely that. Jess Walters pulls off a wickedly ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Jonathan Tropper
I normally love this kind of storytelling - Jonathan Tropper-style, starring a hyper-intellectual, 40-something man just trying to get through the day without screwing things up too badly because his stocks are starting to drop, with his boss, with his wife, with his kids, and he's bound to do something foolish to get them back up - but for some reason this was almost too sharp, too tongue-in-cheek, too verbose. Every sentence was like a fully-loaded baked potato. Jess Walter just crammed everyt ...more
Christine Boyer
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sarcastic humor, the trials of everyday life
Recommended to Christine by: Misty
Hilarious, sarcastic, dry wit from beginning to end. I found myself laughing out loud several times. The main character was a mix of Walter White from Breaking Bad and Henry Holyoak Lightcap from Edward Abbey's, The Fool's Progress and Harry Angstrom from John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Cynical and a little angry about the hand he has been dealt.

I read another book by Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, a couple years ago, which I enjoyed, as well. However, the stories and styles are so different, it's har
Apr 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boozy-reviews
I was once the last guest still in town after a wedding. The happy couple had left for their honeymoon, the friends and family went home, but I had business in town and stayed a few extra days at the hotel. Because of this, I got all of the leftover cake--all of it. The cakes (there were three) had been made by the bride's extraordinary aunts, whose cake-making talents were reason enough for all of us to want to marry into this family. They made a rum cake, a bourbon cake and a kahlua cake. What ...more
Mark Womack
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Michael Lindgren
Aug 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
M. D.  Hudson
Feb 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, comedy
It is, in parts very funny indeed. A unemployed journalist seeks a short term win and fails utterly while liberally imparting wisdom.
Yair Ben-Zvi
Jan 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Amazing, Walter does it again with his latest novel. The Financial Lives of The Poets is a moving (and very funny!) story of failed poetry financial reporter (dead serious) slow then quick descent into near poverty while his marriage and family life deteriorate. More and more drastic solutions become necessary to Matt to not only maintain his way of life as an upper middle class american (post housing/finances crash) but to keep up his status as husband, father, and son (his mentally deteriorati ...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.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996 b

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