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Having and Being Had
by Eula Biss




Overview -
A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' CHOICE

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY TIME, NPR, INSTYLE, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

"A sensational new book that] tries to figure out whether it's possible to live an ethical life in a capitalist society. . . . The results are enthralling." --Associated Press

A timely and arresting new look at affluence by the New York Times bestselling author, "one of the leading lights of the modern American essay." --Financial Times

"My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts," Eula Biss writes, "the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after." Having just purchased her first home, the poet and essayist now embarks on a provocative exploration of the value system she has bought into. Through a series of engaging exchanges--in libraries and laundromats, over barstools and backyard fences--she examines our assumptions about class and property and the ways we internalize the demands of capitalism. Described by the New York Times as a writer who "advances from all sides, like a chess player," Biss offers an uncommonly immersive and deeply revealing new portrait of work and luxury, of accumulation and consumption, of the value of time and how we spend it. Ranging from IKEA to Beyonc to Pokemon, Biss asks, of both herself and her class, "In what have we invested?"

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More About Having and Being Had by Eula Biss

 
 
 

Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' CHOICE

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY TIME, NPR, INSTYLE, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

"A sensational new book that] tries to figure out whether it's possible to live an ethical life in a capitalist society. . . . The results are enthralling." --Associated Press

A timely and arresting new look at affluence by the New York Times bestselling author, "one of the leading lights of the modern American essay." --Financial Times

"My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts," Eula Biss writes, "the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after." Having just purchased her first home, the poet and essayist now embarks on a provocative exploration of the value system she has bought into. Through a series of engaging exchanges--in libraries and laundromats, over barstools and backyard fences--she examines our assumptions about class and property and the ways we internalize the demands of capitalism. Described by the New York Times as a writer who "advances from all sides, like a chess player," Biss offers an uncommonly immersive and deeply revealing new portrait of work and luxury, of accumulation and consumption, of the value of time and how we spend it. Ranging from IKEA to Beyonc to Pokemon, Biss asks, of both herself and her class, "In what have we invested?"

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525537458
  • ISBN-10: 0525537457
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Publish Date: September 2020
  • Page Count: 336
  • Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

Having and Being Had

Writer Eula Biss worked a variety of temporary jobs before achieving economic security as an English professor at Northwestern University. The moment her contract shifted from visiting artist to a more permanent title, Biss and her family bought a house. As she came to terms with her new success, she also found herself reflecting on precarity—as well as money, art and capitalism. Why is being an artist so at odds with the kind of mentality needed to find stability in our modern world? What do we give up as we pursue economic gain? How can we find agency—write our own rules for living—while also making our way within enormous capitalist systems that are entrenched and seemingly immovable? These are the big questions Biss approaches in her compulsively readable memoir, Having and Being Had, which blends research (the notes section is nearly 50 pages long), reflection and richly rendered personal experience. 

Noting how a person’s economic norms are largely determined by their social group, Biss brings people from her life into this story—acquaintances she sits by at dinner parties, friends with whom she swaps books, academics at Northwestern and fellow parents. She thinks about her mother and brother, her husband and son, her house and belongings, her old neighbors and new neighbors, and the big abstract things that inevitably shape how she sees and moves through the world: gentrification, whiteness, privilege and consumption. Through all of this, she keeps a careful eye on how engaging in capitalist economic systems—even as someone experiencing success—brings an unavoidable sense of alienation.

For Biss, art can address this feeling of alienation. And the artfulness of Biss’ prose is fully on display in this memoir, which is made of tiny short-form pieces strung together like beads on a necklace, each one leading to the next yet also standing alone like a perfectly formed droplet. This is a book that asks to be read, absorbed and read again.

 

BAM Customer Reviews