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SIXTEEN LITERARY LUMINARIES ON THE CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT OF BEING CHILDLESS BY CHOICE, COLLECTED IN ONE FASCINATING ANTHOLOGY
One of the main topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to way to have it all—a successful, demanding career and the required 2.3 children—before their biological clock stopped ticking. Now, however, conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all (see Anne-Marie Slaughter) or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life. The idea that some women and men prefer not to have children is often met with sharp criticism and incredulity by the public and mainstream media.
In this provocative and controversial collection of essays, curated by writer Meghan Daum, sixteen acclaimed writers explain why they have chosen to eschew parenthood. Contributors include Lionel Shriver, Sigrid Nunez, Kate Christiensen, Elliott Holt, Geoff Dyer, and Tim Kreider, among others, who will give a unique perspective on the overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood.
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process. What emerges is a more nuanced, diverse view of what it means to live a full, satisfying life.
Contrary to the title, none of the 16 essays in this absorbing collection reflect particularly selfish or shallow motivations for childlessness. As Daum points out in her introduction, she and the other writers surveyed here "are neither hedonists nor ascetics," nor "do we hate children." Some entries are heart-wrenching especially Elliott Holt's "Just an Aunt" while others are downright hilarious. Geoff Dyer announces that he's "had only two ambitions in life: to put on weight (it's not going to happen) and never to have children (which, so far, I've achieved)." He pegs the latter goal in part to his reaction to the argument that having children gives life meaning, which rests on an assumption he doesn't share: "that life needs a meaning or purpose!" In one of the more rigorous and thoughtful essays, Laura Kipnis deftly argues that the so-called maternal instinct is really a "socially organized choice masquerading as a natural one." Pam Houston questions the familiar social message that encourages women to "have it all" by juggling motherhood and a fulfilling career. Elegantly giving voice to her childlessness, she observes that "love, like selfishness and generosity, is not exclusive to one demographic; it infuses every single thing we do and are."