Books

Off the Shelf: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On Their Decision Not to Have Kids

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have KidsSelfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids by Meghan Daum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. A captivating books of essays about the recent increase of people who choose to forgo having children for myriad reasons. The provocative title may challenge readers but, happily, each essay has plenty of substance to chew over. These are not essays that zealously preach to the childless choir–each are matter-of-fact, intimate, and self-aware. Readers will find Lionel Shriver talking about the lingering effects of the Sexual Revolution on current attitudes toward being CBC, Geoff Dyer affirming his dislike of entitled kids being linked to his ‘class antagonism’, & M. G. Lord’s growing realization as to how much nature does play a role in an adopted child’s development.

The collection does have more entries by women than by men, but editor Daum states in her introduction that this probably reflects “the degree to which men devote serious thought to parenthood. . .compared to women, who are goaded into thinking about it practically from birth.” The essays by female writers are, in fact, very exact & careful in their reasoning, probably because they have the stigma of “explaining themselves” to a culture that often demands to know “why not?!” While the main theme is obviously childlessness, another consistent parallel them is breaking down the idea of ‘having it all.’ Most of these writers state emphatically that this idea is simply not possible–that all adult choices involve a degree of sacrifice & regret.

There’s no one essay that offers the perfect argument but as a reader, I had many moments of recognition & familiarity. This book is not just for those who are interested in being childless-by-choice and are looking for a similar point of view. I would also recommend it for those who do have children & are struggling to understand the other side of the argument.

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