Book Review: Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids

So this book pretty much has nothing to do with marriage (I believe it's mentioned a few times?) but it does address something society often thinks goes hand in hand with it: Parenthood. Neither John nor I are currently interested in having children; a stance that fortunately, few people have commented negatively on at this point. However, I'm sure that the closer we get to getting married, the more likely we are to get such comments, so I feel the need to prepare myself by reading up on this whole subject more. Plus I really just wanted to read this book. 


What is this book about? 

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like! It includes short stories from 13 female writers and 3 male writers (some straight, some gay, some non-attached) on their decision not to have children. They're all professional writers so these are all excellently written.

As the introduction says, musing over a version of Leo Tolstoy's famous "happy families" line ("People who want children are all alike. People who don't want children don't want them in their own way."), "..I've come to suspect that the majority of people who have kids are driven by any of just a handful of reasons, most of them connected to old-fashioned biological imperative. Those of us who choose not to become parents are a bit like Unitarieans or nonnative Californians; we tend to arrive at our destination via our own meandering, sometimes agonizing paths." 

Some of them are more torn about their decision than others. A few made their decision as children, while some came very close to having children before deciding it wasn't for them. There are a few which talk about having had abortions. A lot of these stories are tough to read. The introduction also notes, "Some of these essays will no doubt enrage certain readers. Some enraged me in places, which I took as all the more reason they should be included. But all of them, without exception, left me feeling a little bit in love with their authors."

Who would love this book?

Anyone who does not want children, is considering not having children (It feels so weird phrasing it that way, since people have to pretty much take some action to actually have them!), or is open to learning more about the phenomenon.

My Favorite Parts

"You'd be such a good mother, if only you weren't you" by M.G. Lord is so beautiful and sad that it's still haunting me after finishing it over a week ago. It talks quite memorably about the author's experiences with depression so deep that it took away her ability to see color. 

"Babes in the Woods" by Courtney Hodell also left me feeling like I'd been punched in the chest with emotion. I identify with her feelings of being left behind after her beloved older brother had a child so deeply. You aren't supposed to have emotions like that. I read this story and nearly cried afterward; it all felt so familiar.

As she says, "Now my brother was thinking and feeling things I never would. In college he'd taught me how to speak, but this was something I could never say aloud: Don't leave me behind. The only recourse was to love this little scrap of a human, and in the first really adult way I would love anyone. Without expectations of returned affection. Without wounded vanity. With foreknowledge of impending boredom, of exasperation, of anger that I could not allow myself to nurse. In the understanding that I would sometimes be ridiculous in her eyes. Knowing I did not have the rights of parenthood, I could make no demands of her beyond those any grown-up would make of a child: Hold my hand; we're crossing the street."

Does it talk about marital surname changes at all? 

Nope. Not related to the topic of this blog at all. Oh well. Every writer reserves the right to go examine other subjects occasionally.

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