Saturday, April 25, 2015

‘Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed’ (Book review)

Book cover: 'Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed' by Meghan Daum. Cover image consists of the book's title, in yellow, against a pale pink or lavender background. Over it, the book's subtitle is printed in purple: 'Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids.'
Sixteen writers examine their decisions not to have children in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed (Picador, April 2015).

Edited by Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum, the book reflects Daum’s assertion that “people who opt out of parenthood ... are not a monolithic group” (2). As these writings make plain, there is no single reason why these women and men chose to remain childless.

But what unites these writers is the way in which society feels it can judge or intervene in this among the countless other decisions that can define an adult life.

For example, Pam Houston contrasts the expectation of mothering with a career path not taken: “My score on the LSAT indicates that I have the mental capacity to be a lawyer, but I have not gotten one single letter from a stranger or anyone else telling me that I would make a really great lawyer, that the fact that I am not a lawyer must be related to some deep-seated childhood trauma, that if I would only straighten up and become a lawyer, I could pay off some unspecified debt to the world” (171-172).

And Jeanne Safer writes about how she used a pseudonym the first time she wrote about her decision not to have a child. “I even took the additional, totally irrational step of insisting it be published in August, the traditional ‘shrink’s month off,’ as if anyone who knew me and read it would know that I couldn’t possibly have written it then because I wasn’t in town” (186-187).

Each writer’s decision is as unique as the person she or he is.

The backlash against the writers’ intentional childlessness came as no surprise to me, as it mirrored my own experience, in spite of reasoning that, to my husband and me, seemed straight-forward and inescapable: that every man, woman and child — especially in industrial countries — exert a toll on our planet’s resources.

This book belongs on the shelf of readers who are intentionally childless. It provides an essential community around the notion that adults don’t need to be parents to be complete. We can live worthwhile, meaningful, productive lives that make the world a better place. We can even have a loving and positive influence for children through auspices other than parenthood.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinion expressed is my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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