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

By Victoria Fryer 

I’ve mentioned this book briefly in a prior post or two, but I thought it deserved a little bit more attention since it’s devoted to the topic which brings us all here. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is an anthology edited by Meghan Daum, who herself has written essays—one in her own most recent essay collection—on her decision not to have children.

The first thing I loved about Daum’s anthology is the title. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed comes right out and addresses the most common criticisms of the childless by choice. And what I read inside, I loved even more. Daum managed to put together a collection of essays that hit almost every topic related to the choice between parenthood and non-parenthood, and how living with that choice has changed—or not changed—their lives.

In the introduction, Daum writes, “People who want children are all alike. People who don’t want children don’t want them in their own ways.” While I’m not sure I entirely agree with the former, I do think the childfree all have their own variety of reasons and motivations for their choices, and the existence of this anthology—with sixteen very different essays—confirms that.

A mix of authors you may have heard of—such as Lionel Shriver of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame; Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them; and Geoff Dyer—and some you may not have, every essay is solidly interesting, even when you encounter some ideas you don’t agree with.

Every essay I read had at least one line in it that made me want to highlight and say, “Yes! That!” But beyond that, every essay also gave me insight into a piece of a unique life. The contributors address life questions such as ‘How did you come to the decision not to have children?’; ‘How did you deal with any ambivalence you may have felt?’; and ‘What did you do with your life instead?’ Some of the essays are funny, some of them tragic, and some of them straightforwardly frank.

The collection even included several male voices, which I appreciated. I’ve written before about how I wonder if the experience is different for men than it is for women. These three essays in the collection gave me some insight into how men view their choice to forego parenthood and whether or not they endure different struggles and challenges than do women.

Overall, I think this is a fantastic collection of essays and I would encourage anyone to read it, but I think it’ll be particularly poignant for those who are childfree by choice.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

childlessness and religion

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