Having and Being Had
Biss (On Immunity
) delivers a stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of 21st-century capitalism, inspired by becoming a homeowner for the first time. In essay-length ruminations divided into four sections (“Consumption,” “Work,” “Investment,” and “Accounting”), Biss draws from incidents in her own life as an upper-middle-class Chicagoan and engages with works of literature, history, sociology, economics, and psychology. Disillusionment with items in a furniture store prompts a consideration of cultural critic Lewis Hyde and “the strange unspecific desire” of consumerism. Biss also reflects on her young son’s education in the difference between cost and value as he earns the money to purchase and trade Pokémon cards with his friends. She examines women’s labor through the works of Marxist social scientist Silvia Federici, novelist Virginia Woolf, and authors Joan Didion and Gertrude Stein, and analyzes popular culture, including the contract dispute behind Donna Summer’s song “She Works Hard for the Money” and the anti-capitalist messages of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Biss doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her own privilege, and laces her reflections with unexpected insights and a sharp yet ingratiating sense of humor, though she doesn’t push too hard for change, either in her own life or her readers’. Still, this eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light. (Sept.)