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‘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, she now embarks on a roguish and risky self-audit of the value system she has bought into. The result is a radical interrogation of work, leisure and capitalism.
New York Times bestselling author Biss brings her approach to the lived experience of capitalism. Playfully ranging from IKEA to Beyoncé to Pokémon, across bars and laundromats and universities, she asks, of both herself and her class, ‘In what have we invested’?
‘A major achievement. Having and Being Had, rather than leading through narrative, turns individual words and phrases, like capitalism, consumers, great America, husbandry, art and work, into fields of inquiry in order to frame a life. With astute consideration, this expansive and intimate accumulation asks the questions that touch all our lives.’
‘Eula Biss is known for stepping off the plank into turbulent waters that others might fear or avoid, armed with wry wit and a radical lucidity. Having and Being Had continues this journey, offering us a probing tour of capitalism and class that sidesteps posturing and jargon in favor of clarity, humility, and incitement.’
‘No contemporary writer I know explores and confronts her own societal responsibilities better than Eula Biss. In Having and Being Had she unpacks capitalism as a lived practice of a thinking person. She makes you surprised and delighted by the way she extracts complex ideas from mundane situations.’
‘In this witty, genre-bending book, Eula Biss smashes the taboo against talking about money with exhilarating results. Her investigation ranges from the strictly financial to the broadly philosophical as she accounts for her life with disarming honesty and grace.’
‘Eula Biss’s prescient new book gave me new language for things I didn’t know I felt about money, capitalism, and my place inside of an economy that always requires so much of me and gives back so little. A brilliant, lacerating re-examination of our relationship to what we own and why, and who in turn might own us in ways we didn’t know we consented to—what could be more necessary now?’
‘Having and Being Had is an artful masterpiece. In it, Eula Biss takes the ordinary—work, money, gardening, family—and strips it of ordinariness. In undressing life as such, she troubles the relations that bind us to objects, to property, and shows us the true cost of debt.’
‘A stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of 21st-century capitalism…this eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light.‘
‘[Having and Being Had] has turned the interrogative mode into a sound…This is an essential book for our out-of-control times of greed.’
‘Biss marvels at the uncertainty and discomfort people display when assigning costs and value to their work—and the way these discussions are further burdened by problems of race and gender, particularly in terms of how slavery and marriage turned people into property…A typically thoughtful set of Biss essays: searching, serious, and determined to go beyond the surface.’
‘Reads like a study in disquietude itself…[Biss’s] writing is calm and precise, without flourish, so clear it belies the difficulty of writing prose so crystalline.’
‘[Biss’s] intellect is omnivorous, roving, and humane…Biss is a more thoughtful guide than most. She proceeds with a calm, attentive curiosity.’
‘Biss’ works of nonfiction expand the definition of personal essays. She is not afraid to disclose personal details, but she isn’t writing memoir; she is illustrating points. What guides her writing is careful attention to language and behavior, cause and effect…Having and Being Had is a reminder that even discussing our contemporary chaos is an act of awakening and a call to action…Biss examines these stories of ideas in order to help us live with our fate — asking, among other questions: To what degree can we come to know our passions as something free from consumerism? How can we live a life of dignity — with flashes even of luxury and indulgence — without sacrificing ourselves through work without joy or income beyond purpose?’
‘Enthralling…Her allusive blend of autobiography and criticism may remind some of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, a friend whose name pops up in the text alongside those of other artists and intellectuals who have influenced her work. And yet, line for line, her epigrammatic style perhaps most recalls that of Emily Dickinson in its radical compression of images and ideas into a few chiseled lines … Biss wears her erudition lightly … she’s really funny, with a barbed but understated wit … Keenly aware of her privilege as a white, well-educated woman who has benefited from a wide network of family and friends, Biss has written a book that is, in effect, the opposite of capitalism in its willingness to acknowledge that everything she’s accomplished rests on the labor of others.’
‘Compulsively readable…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.’
‘A compelling philosophical drift with intellectual anchoring, piercing analysis and reflection with subtle humour…The easily consumable chapters—limited to two to three pages—read as sublime devotionals.’
‘[T]he kind of enthralling read that opens up your thinking in new and exciting ways.’
‘Having and Being Had is a reminder that even discussing our contemporary chaos is an act of awakening and a call to action…Long may Biss enjoy at least enough market value to make art out of whatever subjects she chooses.’
‘A powerful look at the ways in which we assign value to the people, places and things that comprise our lives.’
‘This collection is curious, sharp, funny (truly) and full of questions we, as a society, have forgotten how to ask about how we spend, what we buy, why we work, what labor is and how we calculate worth.’
‘Heartfelt and smart, fiery and furious, and a thoroughly invigorating read.’
‘If you are not deeply discomfited by the time you finish reading On Having and Being Had, you have no conscience.’