Having and Being Had

Riverhead. Sept. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780525537458. $26. SOC SCI
Biss (No Man’s Land; On Immunity), an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University, combines personal narrative with well-researched nonfiction in a thematic collection of essays. Purchasing her first house led to this work, which questions the degree to which she has bought into a capitalist system that, in many ways, causes her psychic discomfort. Aspects of home ownership lead her to examinations of debt (starting with her mortgage); consumption (buying new furniture and dishes); neighborhoods (thinking about old and new neighbors); and maintenance (choosing paint, lawn care, and laundry). These topics engender musings on affluence, class, and social mobility. Biss reads varied economists’ work and evaluates how their ideas characterize the ways our society functions. From buying a piano on Craisgslist to her son’s collection of Pokemon cards, Biss illustrates how economic ideas play out in our culture, causing precariousness for so many. She balances the comforts of her new home against the hours of work required to pay for them, hours that steal from her time to write.
VERDICT An engaging and accessible read for those interested in social justice and in better understanding our economy.
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